FCC proposes huge fine for material on `Bubba the Love Sponge' radio show

Tuesday, January 27th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government proposed a $755,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications on Tuesday for a sexually explicit radio show on Florida stations, the highest levy ever imposed at one time for indecency violations.

The Federal Communications Commission also proposed only the second fine in its history for a television broadcast _ $27,500 against the owner of a San Francisco station that aired a segment in which a man exposed himself.

The FCC, whose chairman recently urged that penalties be substantially increased for indecent programming, proposed the radio fines against Clear Channel for objectionable segments of a show titled ``Bubba the Love Sponge.''

The segments included graphic discussions about sex and drugs that were ``designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners,'' the FCC said.

The segments ran 26 times and the commission proposed fining Clear Channel the maximum $27,500 for each airing, or $715,000.

Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio chain, also was fined $40,000 because of record-keeping violations at the stations. The company has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal.

In response, Clear Channel called for an industry task force to develop clear indecency standards for radio, television, cable and satellite networks.

``We believe the time has come for every sector of the media to join together and develop consistent standards that are in tune with local community values,'' said Mark Mays, president of the company. ``Our audiences deserve nothing less.''

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps was the only member of the five-person commission to oppose the fine. He said the penalty was not severe enough and suggested the FCC consider revoking the stations' licenses.

``The message to licensees is clear. Even egregious repeated violations will not result in revocation of license,'' Copps said.

The FCC also announced a $27,500 fine against Young Broadcasting of San Francisco Inc. for indecent material aired on its ``KRON 4 Morning News'' show.

During the program on Oct. 4, 2002, one of the performers from a show titled ``Puppetry of the Penis'' briefly exposed himself. The FCC said the station should have expected that such a display could have occurred and should have taken steps to prevent it.

``I hope this step today represents the beginning of a commitment to consider each indecency complaint seriously, and to recognize that indecency on our airwaves is not limited to the radio,'' FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin said.

In 1995, Infinity Broadcasting paid $1.7 million in cumulative fines for indecency for various violations by radio host Howard Stern. Last October the FCC proposed fining Infinity $357,000 for a radio segment on the ``Opie and Anthony'' show in which a couple was said to be having sex in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The head of Clear Channel Radio said his broadcasts are not meant to be indecent.

``We work hard every day to entertain, not offend our listeners,'' said John Hogan. ``None of us defend or encourage indecent content, it's simply not part of our corporate culture.''

The fines came a day before a congressional hearing on obscenity prompted by the FCC enforcement bureau's decision not to fine rock star Bono for an expletive uttered on NBC during the Golden Globe Awards show last year.

The lead singer of the Irish rock group U2 said, ``This is really, really, f------ brilliant.'' The bureau said Bono's comments were not indecent or obscene because of the way the word was used.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has asked his fellow commissioners to overturn the decision. In addition, legislation has been introduced in the House to prohibit broadcasters from airing eight specific words or phrases, including the word uttered by Bono.

Powell also has urged Congress to approve a tenfold increase in the maximum fine of $27,500 per incident. He said the current fine is not large enough to dissuade huge broadcasters from airing objectionable programming.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee holding Wednesday's hearing, has introduced legislation to boost the fines.

Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels cannot air obscene material at any time, and cannot air indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The FCC defines obscene material as describing sexual conduct ``in a patently offensive way'' and lacking ``serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.'' Indecent material is not as offensive but still contains references to sex or excretions.