Court tosses out $1.2M indecency fine against ABC

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Jan. 4 at 1:23 p.m.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday tossed a $1.2 million indecency fine the Federal Communications Commission imposed against ABC Television affiliates for airing a 2003 episode of “NYPD Blue,” which showed a woman’s naked bottom.

It was just the latest in a series of victories for broadcasters, who have spent the last few years challenging the U.S. government’s effort to police airwaves and fine stations for racy content.

ABC appealed the fine last summer after a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the FCC’s indecency rules were “unconstitutionally vague.” The court ruled in a case involving Fox Television, which was sanctioned for airing unbleeped expletives on several live awards shows.

Fox Television is a division of News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal.

The panel’s decision effectively gutted the FCC’s ability to enforce indecency rules on television and radio stations. The agency appealed the decision to the full appeals court in August and that case remains pending.

On Tuesday, the 2nd Circuit court sided with ABC and tossed the FCC’s “NYPD Blue” indecency fine, saying that there was “no significant distinction between this case” and the Fox case.  “Although this case involves scripted nudity, the case turns on the application of the same context-based indecency test that (the court) found ‘impermissibly vague,’ ” the court wrote.

In 2008, the FCC imposed a $27,500 fine against 44 ABC affiliates for airing a 2003 episode of the now-canceled crime drama “NYPD Blue,” which featured a seven-second shot of a woman’s naked buttocks and the side of one of her breasts as she prepared to take a shower.

During the scene, a young boy entered the bathroom and saw the woman, who was dating his father. ABC argued the scene wasn’t indecent and helped show the awkwardness that can occur when parents divorce and change romantic partners.

An FCC spokeswoman didn’t immediately comment on the court’s decision or whether the agency would appeal.

ABC said in a statement that it was pleased with the decision. “We have always believed that this 2003 episode of the long-running and acclaimed series NYPD Blue was not indecent and that the fines were unwarranted and unconstitutional.”

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  1. francis g Jan. 7 at 7:29 a.m.

    This is one with which I can agree. I never got any studying done when certain girls came into the library wearing SHORT SHORTS Who wears short Shorts, We wear Short shorts????

  2. M Jan. 16 at 6:14 pm

    Sanity has prevailed. A less puritanical and less body-phobic society is a less violent and deviant society,it’s been proven again and again. More butts and less bombast. This isn’t something I say very often,but good for the FCC,they got one right this time.