The Parents Television Council has filed a formal FCC indecency complaint against Sinclair's WJLA Washington over an F-bomb that aired last month on Good Morning America, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Multichannel News.
GMA is an ABC network show, but indecency complaints can only be filed against local stations, which are subject to the FCC's indecency rules and responsible for the programming on their air no matter where it originates. Those rules prevent profanity from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., so the 7-9 a.m. GMA broadcast fell within actionable hours.
There is a general exemption for news programming, which PTC conceded but said should apply to live content. The May 24 incident on GMA came as part of a previously taped audio clip from Howard Stern's May 23 XM Radio show in which Stern used the F-word during an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow. The actress was discussing Harvey Weinstein's alleged unwanted sexual advance in the mid-1990s and her then-boyfriend Brad Pitt's reaction.
"While we recognize that there is a news exemption from indecency laws, we believe that that exemption should only apply to live interviews where there is little opportunity to appropriately edit out indecent material," said PTC. "That was not the case here. The word occurred during a taped and edited package segment.
"The network had every opportunity to edit the word out before it went to air," PTC added. "We are asking the FCC to look into this matter and apply existing broadcast decency law."
If the FCC found the broadcast was indecent, it could fine Sinclair up to $397,000 and change, which is the maximum per-incident fine.
"The PTC believes it’s a stark contrast to CBS’s actions to ensure that foul language used during the Tony Awards didn’t make it on air," said a PTC spokesperson, referring to the F-bombs aimed at Donald Trump and dropped by actor Robert De Niro during the Tony Awards broadcast Sunday night (June 10).
The networks slightly delay such live awards broadcasts to allow for bleeping, a product of the Bono awards show F-bomb on a 2003 Golden Globes awards show that the FCC found indecent.
Stern is no stranger to his own indecency fines, but that dates from more than a decade ago, when his show was broadcast on radio stations. Stern is currently on XM Radio, which is a satellite-delivered pay service not subject to indecency rules.
An ABC spokesperson declined to comment on the complaint, but a source familiar with how the network handled the F-bomb said segment reporter Eva Pilgrim immediately apologized, and the word was bleeped out of later feeds and the digital version.