The U.S. government abandoned a lawsuit against News Corp.’s Fox network over its refusal to pay indecency fines for a 2003 broadcast of “Married by America” that featured strippers.
The Justice Department, in a filing today in federal court in Washington, said without elaboration that it was voluntarily dismissing the case. On July 23, the department said the Federal Communications Commission was evaluating its enforcement policies, including how to proceed in the case after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling a month earlier.
“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,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said today in an e-mailed statement.
The Supreme Court ruled June 21 that the FCC didn’t give “fair notice” before it took action against Fox Television Stations Inc. for allowing expletives on awards shows in 2002 and 2003, and against ABC-affiliated stations for showing a scene with a naked woman on the drama “NYPD Blue” in 2003.
The FCC in 2004 sought to fine 169 Fox-owned stations and affiliates for the episode of “Married by America,” in which strippers’ breasts were electronically obscured.
On Feb. 22, 2008, the agency said the fine would apply only to stations named in viewer complaints, rather than all that aired the program. The Justice Department sued in April 2008 after the FCC rejected an appeal from Fox, seeking $7,000 against each of five Fox stations.
“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,” Dan Berger, a spokesman for Fox, said in an e-mailed statement.
He said Fox will ask the FCC to dismiss its underlying forfeiture order in the case so that “Fox affiliates who paid the fine upfront do not unfairly suffer any negative consequences related to their broadcast licenses in the future.”
Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the filing.
The FCC hasn’t brought new broadcast indecency cases since the Democrats took office in 2009, following two Republican chairmen.
“I have directed the Enforcement Bureau to focus its resources on the strongest cases that involve egregious indecency violations,” Genachowski said today. “We also will continue to reduce the backlog of pending indecency complaints.”
The case is U.S. v. Fox Television Stations Inc., 08-cv-00584, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).