The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to fine Fox $25,000 for failing to properly respond to its questions about the airing of a Jan. 3 episode of “American Dad” installment that drew 100,000 consumer complaints.
The FCC issued a "notice of apparent liability for forfeiture" for the sum. The notice gives the network 30 days to respond before the fine takes effect.
In what could develop into a new test of the FCC’s indecency authority, the commission is rejecting Fox’s bid to limit indecency enforcement probes to stations in areas where complaints have been filed.
In several indecency enforcement cases in recent years -- among them the Janet Jackson Super Bowl case -- the commission has enforced fines against all network owned and operated stations.
That helped to increase the amount of fines paid by the networks, but some broadcasters have argued that the fines should be assessed only when there are local complaints.
The “American Dad” episode featured a conversation between two characters about their race horse and the need to keep him happy by keeping him sexually active.
“You're gonna have to do the horse chores ... You have to brush the horse's coat and mane, water and feed it, then give it a full release. You know, give it a happy photo finish. Take the glue out of the factory. Spank his front butt. Grant him a bone loan!” said one character.
That dialogue was followed by a scene of the horse apparently ejaculating.
After the episode aired, the Parents Television Council urged its members to complain to the FCC that the episode was indecent. The FCC received 100,000 complaints, which prompted its Media Bureau to examine the telecast. It asked the station in Dallas that Fox owns and operates, KDFW, questions not only about its airing of the show but about how many other Fox stations aired the episode.
Fox declined to disclose the other stations, calling the request “unnecessary” and “beyond the bureau’s authority.”
It maintained that the FCC s should limit any investigation to stations where complaints were filed and it should already have the complaints.
On Thursday, the Media Bureau called the refusal “an apparent willful and repeated violation of a commission order” and said the information sought would permit “efficient and accurate fact-finding.”
The FCC has yet to make any ruling about the indecency complaints themselves.
In a statement Wednesday, Fox said it was “puzzled” by the FCC action.
It said it responded to “all of the questions” raised. “We will respond in greater detail to the commission in full course,” said the statement.