This evening, at about the close of business on a Friday evening, the FCC issued a decision on an number of indecency complaints involving a five-year old episode of "NYPD Blue." The Commission fined approximately fifty or so ABC affiliates in the Central and Mountain time zones $27,500 each for airing indecent material. Specifically, the Commission found that a scene in the episode aired on February 25, 2003 containing adult female nudity to be indecent. The Commission rejected ABC’s seemingly common sense argument that a woman’s buttocks are not "sexual organs" within the definition of the indecency rules. Instead, the FCC has now determined that showing the backside of a naked woman is a violation of the indecency rules if it airs before 10 PM, as it did in the Central and Mountain time zone. A copy of the FCC’s decision can be found here. If there is a silver lining it is that the FCC imposed the statutory maximum that existed at the time the programming was aired — $27,500 — rather the new, stepped up fines. Further, the Commission fined only those stations about which it received an actual complaint, and not simply all stations in those time zones that aired the episode.
The stations have until February 11th to either pay the fine or appeal the forfeiture. This is an accelerated timeframe for responding or paying the fine, as usually Commission gives stations 30 days to respond to a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture. It is unclear what the impetus was for the FCC to finally issue a decision on the "NYPD Blue" complaints nearly five years after the episode originally aired and with several challenges on earlier Commission indecency rulings currently pending before the courts. No word yet on whether ABC and the affected affiliates will appeal the decision, but it seems likely that this indecency decision will join the others already in the pipeline for judicial review. And in the meantime, broadcasters have been put on notice that a woman’s posterior is now officially indecent material. No word yet on whether showing a man’s rear end is equally problematic, but if there’s a station willing to air it and a viewer willing to complain, the FCC will undoubtedly tackle that critical issue if and when it arises.