NEW YORK — The Federal Communications Commission and Viacom have reached a $3.5 million indecency settlement over three proposed fines and two others already upheld on appeal. Dismissed by the agreement are pending FCC indecency investigations against the company and any indecency complaints filed by listeners or viewers before the decree’s effective date.
Excluded from the settlement is the $550,000 proposed fine for the Super Bowl halftime show incident.
As part of the agreement, Viacom admits that some of the material that it broadcast was indecent. In addition to the $3.5 million payment to the U.S. Treasury, Viacom has committed to implementing a companywide compliance plan aimed at preventing future violations.
Among the pending matters covered by the consent decree are a $357,500 fine for Opie & Anthony’s Sex for Sam syndicated radio broadcast, which originated on WNEW New York; a $27,500 fine for a Howard Stern show that aired in March on WKRK Detroit; and a second Opie & Anthony fine of $21,000.
In a statement about the agreement, Viacom said: “We have now resolved all outstanding matters before the FCC related to indecency except for the Super Bowl. While we deeply regret the incident involving Janet Jackson, we believe that a government fine for an unintentional broadcast is unfair and unwarranted, and we are challenging that decision. This consent decree allows us to move forward and to focus our efforts in this area by serving our viewers and listeners with techniques to safeguard live broadcasts, such as cutaways and video and audio delays.”
As it did earlier this year with Clear Channel and Emmis, the FCC’s latest consent decree involves a series of requirements for Viacom. The company must purchase and install delay systems and edit “potentially problematic live programming” on its TV stations and on the CBS and UPN networks. It also must adopt similar safeguards at Infinity’s radio stations.
Viacom also agrees to conduct indecency-training sessions for its air talent and employees who “materially participate in programming decisions.” Going forward, if a Viacom-owned station receives an indecency Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL), the company agrees to suspend and put into remedial training the employees responsible for the material in question and conduct an internal investigation. When the air talent returns, his or her show would be subject to on-air delay. Should the NAL lead to a forfeiture order, the employees involved would face further disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
These conditions aren’t as stringent as those placed on Clear Channel or Emmis, which FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin noted in his concurring statement.
“This consent decree does not have all of these protections,” Martin said, referring to the CC and Emmis decrees, which were identical to each other. “I am concerned that this consent decree is significantly different and may be less of a deterrent for future violations. Moreover, by requiring less of Viacom than we have required of others, we may be treating those other companies unfairly.”