Hard News: Newscast Porn Image Comes with Hefty FCC Fine

https://www.theblot.com/hard-news-fcc-seeks-fine-stations-airing-porn-image-7739268
The FCC has imposed what would be the largest fine against a broadcaster, WDBJ in Roanoke, Va., for airing a pornographic image during a newscast in 2012.

The FCC has imposed what would be the largest fine against a broadcaster, WDBJ in Roanoke, Va., for airing a pornographic image during a newscast in 2012.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it will impose a $350,000 fine against a local television station in Virginia for airing a pornographic image during a news broadcast three years ago.

The fine stems from a news story aired by Roanoke CBS affiliate WDBJ (Channel 7) during a 6 p.m. news broadcast in 2012. The story, fronted by former reporter Justin McLeod, focused on Tracy Rolan, an adult film star who had started working as a volunteer rescuer for a local EMT squad.

Rolan appeared in more than 200 pornographic films under the stage name Harmony Rose. The station used several non-sexual still images from Rolan’s adult videos in the form of screen shots taken from various online websites. One of the screen shots used in the news story contained an advertisement for an unrelated video. The ad showed a different porn star performing a sexual act on a man’s erect penis.

In a statement posted online, WDBJ General Manager Jeffrey Marks said the story had gone through “a review before it aired,” yet the image still made it to broadcast, something Marks said was “purely unintentional.”

“The picture in question was small and outside the viewing area of the video editing screen,” he said. “It was visible only on some televisions and for less than three seconds.”

Even so, it was enough for numerous viewers to file official complaints with the FCC, the outcome of which has yielded the largest fine against a television station for a single incident in American broadcast history. In a public notice published by the FCC on Monday, the Commission said the fine was necessary because the station willfully aired indecent content — in this case, a pornographic image — during a time when children might be watching television.

Read more: American Parents Freak Out Over Nickelodeon Nip Slip

The FCC defines indecent content as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” Federal law prohibits broadcasters who possess a license — usually over-the-air television and radio stations — from airing indecent content between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., which regulators have determined are the hours when children are most likely to be listening or watching.

“Our action [against WDBJ] sends a clear signal that there are severe consequences for TV stations that air sexually explicit images when children are likely to be watching,” said Travis LeBlanc, a regulator with the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau.

WDBJ has since apologized for the incident, but says the FCC’s fine is heavy-handed and an infringement on what it calls “protected speech.”

“This unprecedented proposed fine is more than 46 times higher than the FCC’s own determination of the punishment for indecent speech,” Marks said, noting that the FCC’s base fine for an indecency violation starts at around $7,000.

The station, which is owned by Schurz Communications, says it will challenge the FCC’s proposed fine. According to federal regulation, the station has 30 days to submit a letter of opposition in which it can seek to reduce the fine or toss it out entirely.

Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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