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Viacom to Pay Record $3.5 Million to Settle FcCC Indecency Cases

They also agreed to implement delays in more live programming to help block material that may be deemed inappropriate.

The settlement effectively closes investigations by the Federal Communication Commission into about 50 Viacom-owned radio and television stations dating back to 2001, FCC spokesman Richard Diamond told the Associated Press.

The FCC had been investigating alleged penalties committed at 16 of Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting radio stations, including one against shock jock Howard Stern. Another focused on a 2002 radio broadcast on the “Opie & Anthony Show” during which a couple purportedly had sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Greg (Opie) Hughes and Anthony Cumia in October 2004 moved their show to XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., and Stern recently announced that he will join the Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. in January 2006, when his contract with Infinity expires. By moving from broadcast airwaves to satellite radio, the shock jocks will avoid any oversight by the FCC.

The settlement does not include the agency’s $550,000 fine against Viacom after the exposure of singer Janet Jackson’s breast during the CBS Super Bowl halftime show in January. Viacom is contesting that fine.

“We have now resolved all outstanding matters before the FCC related to indecency except for the Super Bowl,” according to Viacom’s statement. “While we deeply regret the incident involving Janet Jackson, we believe that a government fine for an unintentional broadcast is unfair and unwarranted and we are challenging that decision.”

As part of the agreement, Viacom, which also owns CBS and MTV, promised to establish a companywide compliance plan aimed at preventing future violations of federal indecency rules.

“This consent decree allows us to move forward and to focus our efforts in this area by serving our viewers and listeners with techniques to safeguard live broadcasts, such as cutaways and video and audio delays,” Viacom said in a statement late Tuesday.

Viacom said the public, not the government, should decide what it is exposed to on radio and television.

Federal law prohibits U.S. radio and television stations from airing indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are more likely to be tuning in. The FCC defines indecent programming as containing sexually explicit or “patently offensive” material, such as scatological references, but media executives, such as Mel Karmazin, the former Viacom president and current head of Sirius, have complained that the federal standards are too vague and unclear for broadcasters to follow.

The Viacom settlement, which must be paid to the federal government within five days, is twice the size of the previous record of $1.75 million paid by Clear Channel Communications Inc. in June 2004.

The agreement between Viacom Inc. and the FCC comes as federal regulators, Congress and viewers have raised concerns that broadcasters are airing programs that are too sexually explicit, violent and laced with graphic language.

Just last week, the FCC launched an investigation into the opening spot for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” featuring a locker room seduction between Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens and ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” star Nicollette Sheridan.