Television is getting its first taste of the Federal Communications Commission's new militancy toward alleged broadcast indecency with stations in Chicago and Kansas City cited in formal warnings this week against prime-time programming.
The FCC indicated a shift in its policy toward obscene, profane or indecent programming in a ruling Wednesday on a complaint lodged against a Chicago UHF television station. WSNS-TV Channel 44 in that city was exonerated of obscenity charges filed by a company seeking the station's broadcast license on the grounds that WSNS had broadcast obscene material in the past. According to FCC spokesman John Kamp, the commission struck the word "never" from its own long-standing rule that it would never declare a broadcast obscene. Until now, the FCC has always referred the question of obscenity to the courts or to the Justice Department for formal prosecution.
"The commission today did not change that, but it did change their 'never' statement to say that (the commission) would find (broadcasts to be obscene) in appropriate cases," Kamp said.
On Tuesday, a UHF channel in Kansas City--KZKC-TV Channel 62--operated by Chattanooga-based Media Central Inc., was given 30 days to respond to an FCC charge that the station violated decency standards by airing the 1980 theatrical film "Private Lessons" during prime-time viewing hours last May.
"We still do not have the notification of the letter from the FCC," Media Central chairman Morton Kent told The Times on Wednesday. "They released (the letter) to the whole world Tuesday, but we still don't have it here."
Kent said his company, which operates eight television stations across the South, fired the KZKC personnel responsible for airing the R-rated movie May 26 beginning at 8 p.m. He said the station received a number of complaints from viewers after the broadcast. Kent said he had a copy of "Private Lessons" sent to Chattanooga after the May 26 broadcast for his own review and concluded that KZKC's decision to air it showed "neither good sense or good taste." The film was part of a syndication package of movies that KZKC purchased last year, he said.
"The people involved in that lack of good judgment (in airing the film) have since found other homes," he said.
Nevertheless, he decried the FCC's decision to publicly announce the KZKC reprimand without notifying him first.
"There are only 32 Amendments to the Constitution, but I have a 33rd Amendment right to be treated as a human being," he said.
The FCC would not release the name of the KZKC viewer who complained about "Private Lessons," a 1980 Barry & Enright Productions film featuring "Emmanuelle" star Sylvia Kristel and "Head of the Class" star Howard Hesseman. In theaters, the R rating issued by the Motion Picture Assn. of America means that no one under 17 should be admitted without a parent or guardian.
The film, which was aired on about 40 other stations across the United States, according to Kent, had been edited for television. But, he said, the taped version sent him by the KZKC staff was unsettling.
"If what I saw was the TV version, I'd hate to see the theatrical version," he said.
The sex-oriented comedy should not have aired from 8 to 11 p.m. as it did, Kent said, but he still held that the station and Media Central Inc. did not violate either federal obscenity law or FCC standards by airing it.
KZKC broadcast the movie about a month after the FCC revised its indecency standards last April 16, but at that time only radio stations were sanctioned for indecent broadcasting. The standards were revised and adopted in November, allowing for more adult-oriented programming from midnight to 6 a.m. The guidelines were officially issued on Dec. 29.