WASHINGTON -- A government crackdown on indecent programming resulted in a proposed fine of $3.6 million against dozens of CBS stations and affiliates yesterday -- a record penalty from the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC cited an episode of the CBS drama ''Without a Trace" in December 2004 that graphically depicted ''teenage boys and girls participating in a sexual orgy."
CBS said it strongly disagrees with the FCC's finding.
The program ''featured an important and socially relevant storyline warning parents to exercise greater supervision of their teenage children. The program was not unduly graphic or explicit," a network statement said.
The network can appeal the decision to the FCC. The company has 30 days to ask for reconsideration and provide an explanation as to why the network should not be held liable.
The proposed fine was among decisions from the agency stemming from more than 300,000 complaints it received concerning nearly 50 TV shows broadcast between 2002 and 2005.
Rejecting an appeal by CBS, the FCC also upheld its previous $550,000 fine against 20 of the network's stations for the Janet Jackson ''wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl two years ago.
These were the first fines issued under FCC chairman Kevin Martin, clearing a backlog of investigations into indecency complaints. The commission issued no fines last year.
''The number of complaints received by the commission has risen year after year," said Martin. ''I share the concerns of the public -- and of parents, in particular -- that are voiced in these complaints."
Responding to other complaints, the commission found that Fox Television Network had violated decency standards during the 2003 Billboard Music Awards. During the broadcast, reality-show star Nicole Richie uttered multiple expletives. But it didn't fine Fox because at the time, precedent indicated the commission would not act against isolated use of expletives, the FCC said.