- Beware of the Open Mike - Off-Air Comments that End Up On the Air Can Lead to Indecency Issues
- April 15, 2009
- Law Firm: Davis Wright Tremaine LLP - Washington Office
According to a recent article from the Des Moines Register, a station in Iowa recently fired two employees who, during what they thought was a break in programming, got into a heated, profanity-laden exchange which, luck would have it, ended up on the air as their mikes were live. Fearing an FCC fine, the station owner fired the duo, hoping to mitigate any fine that the FCC might impose. We will have to wait to see what impact the employers action will have on any action the FCC might take. But the action demonstrates two things - first, mistakes happen and will happen whenever there is live programming. Even clear station policies that absolutely ban such actions and make clear that they are a firing offense (as were apparently in place here) can't stop human beings from messing up. Second, the case reminds all on-air employees that they need to respect a microphone, and need to assume that a mike that can pick up sounds is in fact doing so. Even Presidents seem to have had problems remembering that fact, but these live-mike slip ups can lead to FCC indecency fines.
The action also reminds us that, with the new administration now in place, we don't know how the new FCC will enforce the indecency policy. We are waiting for decisions on several court appeals of FCC indecency cases, and on the appointment of new FCC Commissioners. Until we see the decisions in those cases, and find out who the new Commissioners are and how aggressively they want to enforce the rules, we will likely not know how cases like this one will be treated in the next few years.