Attorney: Timing could prevent FCC fines for UNC coach's expletive
Posted February 19, 2009 5:10 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Timing could save several radio stations from fines after they carried live a press conference in which University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill men's basketball coach Roy Williams uttered an expletive Wednesday night, media attorneys say.
After a highly emotional game against rival North Carolina State University, a reporter asked Williams if he knew why his "veteran guys ... stink" at playing full-court press.
Williams responded, "If I knew the answer to that, do you think we'd still be (expletive) stinking?"
He immediately apologized for his verbal lapse, saying, "Everybody strike that f-word; I meant to say 'frickin.'"
The expletive, though, went out unedited on several media outlets, including radio stations carrying the Wolfpack Sports Network and Tar Heel Sports Network.
Federal law permits the Federal Communications Commission to fine stations up to $325,000 for each occurrence of obscene material broadcast on their airwaves.
However, the time at which Williams said the word is key to whether stations would be liable for a fine, said Mark Prak, an attorney for the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters. The FCC allows a "safe harbor" for broadcasting indecent material from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., when fewer families and children are listening or watching.
According to a WRAL reporter at the press conference, Williams said the expletive a few minutes after 10 p.m.
"Given the time of day of Coach Williams' remarks, it would appear that all the radio stations carrying the post-game news conference live caught a break," Prak said.
The context in which the word was uttered could also make levying fines harder, the attorney said.
"I wouldn't argue that this is necessarily a broadcast of indecent material," he said. "As a matter of fact, if it occurred during a press conference of a newsworthy event, it might very well be exempt."
The FCC would have to launch an investigation first before levying any fines, Prak said.
"While we can all appreciate when someone makes a mistake, I'm not sure every case is a federal case," he said.