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FCC Showdown on Broadcast Indecency Issue Looms at Meeting

February 16, 1988|DENNIS McDOUGAL

Citing new FCC broadcast indecency guidelines as "vague and overbroad," owners of a Kansas City television station denied last week that they aired an indecent movie during prime time.

The denial--buttressed by vows that KZKC-TV would no longer air the frontal nudity that they believe got them in trouble--sets the stage for a showdown on the indecency issue, perhaps as early as next week.

"It could come up at the next commission meeting on Feb. 25, but it's more likely that they'll take it up at the March 24 meeting," an FCC spokesman said.

The FCC carried its year-old campaign against radio broadcast indecency to television last month when FCC General Counsel Diane Killory sent a formal "Letter of Inquiry" to Chatanooga, Tenn.-based Media Central Inc. She gave the company 30 days to reply to charges that it aired an indecent movie, "Private Lessons," on May 26 over its Kansas City station.

Like radio broadcasters before them, KZKC's owners object to the FCC rule against "patently offensive" depictions or descriptions of "sexual or excretory activities or organs." The commission censured radio station KPFK-FM (90.7) in Los Angeles for airing a gay play containing several of the so-called "seven dirty words" that comedian George Carlin made famous in a routine he performed in the early 1970s.

But the FCC came down equally hard on New York deejay Howard Stern who regularly uses sexual innuendo in his routines, and Santa Barbara station KCSB-FM for playing songs with innuendo in the lyrics.

The only exception that the FCC has said it would allow to the airing of adult-oriented indecent material is between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., when children are not thought to be in the audience.

Visually, as well as aurally, Media Central Inc. said it found the new FCC guidelines to be too restrictive for broadcasters to observe.

In his formal reply hand-delivered to FCC Complaints Division chief Edythe Wise last week, MCI president Donald Kent wrote:

"The process of applying this vague and overbroad definition to particular programming is so subjective that it is virtually impossible for us, exercising good faith judgment, to draw a consistent line between acceptable and unacceptable programming."

Media Central is not alone.

A coalition of broadcasters and other media groups, led by Action for Children's Television and the National Assn. of Broadcasters, sued the FCC in federal court three weeks ago on grounds that the new indecency policy violates the First Amendment.

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