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Clear Channel to Pay Record Fine for Indecency Charges

As part of the agreement, the FCC cleared the company of all other pending investigations and complaints for alleged decency violations, according to a commission press release.

In addition to the $1.75 million payment, Clear Channel admitted some of the material broadcast on its radio stations violated federal decency rules. Those instances include on-air statements from shock jock Howard Stern, including a 20-minute program mostly about anal sex. Clear Channel in April indefinitely suspended Stern from its six stations carrying his radio program after the FCC threatened to fine the company $495,000 for Stern’s remarks.

Furthermore, the company, owner of 2,000-plus stations, vowed to formalize its zero-tolerance policy to prevent future broadcasts of indecent material.

The $1.75 million fine is in addition to the $755,000 that Clear Channel agreed to pay in March because of graphic and sexually explicit material broadcast on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” program. Host Todd Clem has since been fired.

The FCC has taken increasingly aggressive measures to curtail the broadcast of allegedly indecent material on radio and television after a series of incidents, including a Super Bowl half-time performance that ended with the exposure of singer Janet Jackson’s breast.

Following the now-infamous half-time performance, lawmakers began to push for tougher legislation to prevent broadcasters from airing content deemed offensive and inappropriate.

In March, the House and Senate both crafted bills designed to toughen penalties for broadcasting material considered indecent. The House passed its version by a 391-22 vote. The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved its version, though it has yet to be scheduled for debate by the full Senate.

The penalty for Clear Channel marks the largest the FCC has levied against a broadcaster for such violations, though it appears relatively insignificant compared to the $116.5 million Clear Channel earned in the fourth quarter of 2004.

Nevertheless, Clear Channel cautioned shareholders in its 2003 annual report that its business could be “adversely affected” by the pending legislation in Congress that could enhance the FCC’s powers to enforce indecency rules.

The largest penalty previously imposed by the commission against a broadcaster involved Infinity Broadcasting, which agreed in 1995 to pay $1.7 million to settle complaints against Howard Stern. Infinity Broadcasting, a division of Viacom Inc., syndicates Stern’s show in 35 cities.

Federal law prohibits U.S. radio and television stations from airing material, such as sexually explicit or scatological references, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are more likely to be tuning in. These rules do not apply to cable or satellite channels.

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