The Commission's enforcement actions regarding broadcasts of obscene,
profane and/or indecent material are based on documented complaints of
obscene, profane or indecent broadcasting received from the public. The
Commission's staff reviews each complaint to determine whether it alleges
information sufficient to suggest that a violation of the obscenity,
profanity or indecency prohibition has occurred. If it appears that a
violation may have occurred, the staff will commence an investigation by
sending a letter of inquiry to the broadcast station. If the complaint does
not contain information sufficient to ascertain that a violation may have
occurred, the complaint will be dismissed. In such a case, the complainant
has the option of re-filing the complaint with additional information,
filing a petition for reconsideration of the staff action, or filing an
application for review (appeal) to the full Commission. If the facts and
information contained in a complaint suggest that a violation did not occur,
then the complaint will be denied. In that situation, the complainant has
the option of filing a petition for reconsideration of the staff action or
an application for review (appeal) to the full Commission.
In making indecency and profanity determinations, context is key! The
Commission staff must analyze what was actually said during the alleged
broadcast, the meaning of what was said and the context in which it was
stated. Accordingly, the Commission asks complainants to provide the
Documented complaints as discussed above should be directed to the
Federal Communications Commission, Enforcement Bureau, Investigations &
Hearing Division, 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554. Any
documentation of the programming, of necessity, becomes part of the
Commission's records and cannot be returned.
Information regarding the details of
what was actually
during the allegedly indecent, profane or obscene broadcast.
flexibility in how a complainant may provide this information. A
complainant may submit a significant excerpt of the program describing
what was actually said (or depicted) or a full or partial tape or
transcript of the material. In whatever form the complainant decides
to provide the information, it must be sufficiently detailed such that
the Commission can determine the words and language actually used
during the broadcast and the context of those words or language.
Subject matter alone is not a determining factor of whether material is
obscene, profane or indecent. Thus, for example, stating only that the
broadcast station discussed sex or had a disgusting discussion of
sex during a program is not sufficient.
the FCC must know the context when analyzing whether
specific, isolated words
are indecent or profane.
The FCC does not require complainants to provide tapes or transcripts
in support of their complaints.
Consequently, failure to provide a tape or transcript of a broadcast,
in and of itself, will not lead to automatic dismissal or denial of a
Indecency Guidelines Policy Statement, 16 FCC Rcd 7999 at para. 24.
The Commission and/or the Enforcement Bureau have proposed or assessed monetary
forfeitures in cases where the complaint did not include a tape or
transcript of the actual broadcast.
Emmis FM License Corp. of Chicago, WKQX(FM), Chicago, IL, 17 FCC Rcd 493 (EB
2002) recon. denied,
17 FCC Rcd 18,343 (EB 2002) ;
Infinity Broadcasting Corporation of Los Angeles,
KROQ-FM, Pasadena, CA, 15 FCC Rcd 10,667 (EB 2000), application for review
17 FCC Rcd 9,892 (2002);
Citicasters Co., KSJO(FM), San Jose, CA, 15
FCC Rcd 19,095 (EB 2000), forfeiture paid.
The date and time of the broadcast.
Under the Communications Act
of 1934, if the Commission assesses a monetary forfeiture against a
broadcast station for violation of a rule, it must specify the date the
violation occurred. Accordingly, it is important that complainants
provide the date the material in question was broadcast. Moreover,
under statutory provisions, judicial and Commission case law
and Commission Rules, a broadcaster's right to air
indecent or profane speech is protected between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Consequently, the Commission must know the time of day that the
material was broadcast.
The call sign of the station involved.
For more information regarding the Commission's rules regarding broadcast of
obscene, profane and/or indecent material, please click
For more information on how to file complaints with our Consumer &
Governmental Affairs Bureau, click