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FCC to Back Away From a Majority of Its Indecency Complaints

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's order comes in the wake of the Department of Justice dropping yet another lawsuit against a network 

The Federal Communications Commission is scaling back — in a major way –its enforcement of indecency complaints.

Chairman Julius Genachowski has ordered agency staffers to refocus enforcement efforts to target only the most explicit of the more than 1.5 million pending complaints,  a spokesman for the agency told TheWrap on Monday.

The decision was in response to the Department of Justice’s dropping Friday of a lawsuit complaining of indecency in a 2003 Fox broadcast of its reality show “Married by America,” which included scenes featuring suggested — but pixilated — nudity.

Also read: Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Appeal of Janet Jackson Indecency Case

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fox v. FCC, the commission is reviewing its indecency enforcement policy to ensure the agency carries out Congress’s directive in a manner consistent with vital First Amendment principles,” Genachowski said in a statement to TheWrap. 

In the interim, Genachowski added that he has directed the agency to “focus its resources on the strongest cases that involve egregious indecency violations. We also will continue to reduce the backlog of pending indecency complaints.”

Genachowski’s effort to tone down the agency’s crackdown on off-color TV programming also followed landmark indecency actions by the Supreme Court this summer.

Also read: Supreme Court Knocks Down FCC Indecency Rules in Fox Case, Ducks First Amendment Question

In one of the cases, the high court refused to review a lower-court decision that threw out the FCC’s $550,000 fine for CBS over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the network’s live coverage of the 2004 Super Bowl.

In a separate case, the Supreme Court on June 21 ruled that FCC indecency sanctions against Fox and ABC were improper, on grounds that the networks had not received fair notice that fleeting indecencies could be subject to sanctions.

In the “Married by America” case, the FCC originally fined 169 of Fox’s owned stations and affiliates a total of $1.18 million. The agency later reduced the scope of the fine to 13 Fox TV stations and affiliates, hitting each with fines of $7,000 apiece, for a total of $91,000.

“Fox’s view has consistently been that the FCC’s fine had no foundation within the law, and we are grateful that the DOJ and FCC have now dropped the case,” said Fox in a statement.

“We think the FCC should vacate the fines and refund the stations that paid the fines,” an individual at Fox familiar with the situation told The Wrap.