Indecency Undressed

The real indecency fines are ready to be imposed. But they aren't the puny million variety that Viacom, for example, is fighting over.

No, the real penalties are the $2.5 billion kind that a federal prosecutor wants from John and Timothy Rigas, the former senior executives at Adelphia Communications. The Rigas' were convicted of fraud in looting the company of $2.5 billion.

While not technically a fine -- and while it has nothing to do with indecent TV program content -- it's the government's big way of branding a hot iron on some indecent TV business activities.

The Rigas' essentially used their company's coffers as their own personal bank, blatantly disregarding Adelphia's status as a public company that must adhere to strict Securities and Exchange Commission guidelines.

Can the government really get back the money? Maybe.

Prosecutors can enforce a "forfeiture judgment" on the pair which could allow the government to seize their stock in various cable systems around the country that are managed by Adelphia.



This is not a paltry little fine the FCC gives to TV networks or stations when it comes to questionable TV content. The government should be applauded for their good work on penalizing the Rigas' - and should do more of it.

The bigger issue is the dollars themselves - especially news stories of big money and people. Forget about Janet Jackson's breast. As indecent TV content goes, what can you tell your children and teenagers when they hear press reports of multi-million dollar salaries of professional athletes or major film actors?

How indecent is it when sports athletes don't play very well or when big-time actors can't offer good entertainment? What does that tell young people? That big money is not indecent - just possible? Perhaps that $140 million Walt Disney paid to Michael Ovitz as a severance might also be in this category.

If sex and violence are words that will be thrown around with the word indecency in years to come, we'll need to add one more subject: money.

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