WASHINGTON, Aug 21 (Reuters) - A top Federal Communications Commission official expressed concern on Monday about recent on-air incidents construed as threats against Republican presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush and Democratic vice-presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani said her agency has received 30 to 40 complaints about the CBS television network's ``The Late Late Show'' comedy programme, which in early August briefly showed a picture of Bush with the words ``Snipers Wanted'' printed across it.
Tristani also expressed concern about a recent death threat made against Lieberman by an on-air caller to radio shock-jock Howard Stern's morning programme.
Twenty-three year-old Lawrence Christian Franco called Stern's show on August 14 and threatened to kill Lieberman, despite attempts by Stern to see if the comments were in jest. Franco allegedly continued to make the threats and was placed under house arrest on August 15.
``Calls for voluntary codes of conduct are changing to calls for enforceable regulatory standards,'' Tristani said in a letter to CBS Television President Leslie Moonves. CBS is owned by Viacom Inc. (NYSE:VIA - news)
On August 11, CBS and Worldwide Pants, which produces ``The Late Late Show'', issued an apology, calling the graphic ``inappropriate and regrettable.''
The two companies acknowledged that the graphic ``should not have been included in the telecast and is not consistent with our broadcast standards.''
``We do appreciate her concerns and we plan to respond to them,'' said Gil Schwartz, a CBS spokesman. He also said the U.S. Secret Service, which is charged with protecting presidential candidates, made an inquiry about the incident.
``They wanted to make sure it was what it appeared to be, an ineffective and lame attempt at humour,'' Schwartz said.
FCC rules presently cover material that is indecent or obscene but Tristani said any action by the agency in this matter would likely have to come when CBS seeks a renewal of its broadcast licenses for its stations as well as those renewals sought by its affiliates.
``I know that's very broad but that is something that has been looked at'' in past situations like this, she told Reuters in an interview, adding that CBS owns at least 17 stations.
Tristani said ``a lot of people saw it as inciting violence and that's terrible.''
She said in her letter that CBS should respond to the concerns raised and ``use the incident to assess its public interest obligations.''