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Post date: August 8 2005

Hot 97 Fined For Sponsoring Illegal "smackfest" Contests

Attorney General Spitzer and State Athletic Commission Chairman Ron Scott Stevens today announced an agreement resolving their investigation of slapping contests sponsored by a New York City radio station.

As a result of the agreement, WQHT (Hot 97) will pay the maximum fine of $240,000 for its illegal "Smackfest" promotions and fund an extensive anti-violence campaign, including a $60,000 payment to one of the city’s leading anti-violence organizations.

"This agreement should be a wake up call to all those in the entertainment industry who think outrageousness is a clever marketing strategy," Spitzer said. "The law establishes set boundaries that cannot be crossed to protect our community’s health and safety."

Chairman Stevens said: "This settlement accurately reflects the proper enforcement of New York State’s "combative sports statute." The intention of the statute was to ensure the public’s health and safety and this goal was met. I hope this matter sends the message that these types of dangerous events will not be tolerated in the State of New York."

Council Member John C. Liu said: "Starting with Emmis' broadcast of racist and sexist profanity in its 'The Tsunami Song' and more recently, it's illegal 'SmackFest' prizefights, the corporate chieftains at Emmis have broken the public trust by profiting from hate and violence. Today's legal settlement is not only a victory for the New Yorkers, but will provide another incentive for Emmis’ corporate chieftains to stay within the legal and ethical bounds of our public airwaves." "On behalf of the City Council Members who requested this investigation, we are grateful to Attorney General Spitzer and the State Athletic Commission for examining this matter so quickly and taking such decisive action."

The Attorney General’s Office and the State Athletic Commission began an investigation of Hot 97's promotions in March of this year. The investigation revealed that the station had sponsored 24 "Smackfest" contests between April 2004 and January 2005 in which participants, usually young women, took turns violently slapping each other. Winners of the contests were promised tickets to concerts and as much as $5,000 in cash. Video tapes of contests then were featured on the radio station’s website.

In a petition filed in New York Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s office and the Athletic Commission alleged that the contests were dangerous and violated state law regarding the promotion of a combative sport. The Athletic Commission is responsible for issuing permits for boxing contests and does so only when certain conditions have been met. For example, boxing contests require the sponsorship of an official sanctioning body such as an athletic federation and also require the presence of trained referees and medical professionals. Smackfest contests met none of these conditions and generated outrage in New York City for the demeaning nature of the events.

Under the consent order, Emmis Communications, the parent company of WQHT, is permanently enjoined from engaging in, conducting, promoting or profiting from such contests. Emmis will also pay the maximum fine of $10,000 per violation for a total of $240,000.

The company has also agreed to the following corrective actions:

  • Hot 97 will make a $60,000 payment to Safe Horizon, a non-profit organization in New York that promotes awareness of domestic violence and conflict dispute resolution;
  • Hot 97 will advertise Safe Horizon programs and services on its website and publicity vehicles for a five-month period;
  • Hot 97 will broadcast a series of prime-time anti-violence public service announcements; and
  • Hot 97 will sponsor special anti-violence presentations during October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Attorney General Spitzer and Chairman Stevens thanked New York City Councilman John C. Liu for bringing the matter to their offices’ attention. Mr. Liu and Council Members Charles Barron, Letitia James, Diana Reyna, Robert Jackson and Leroy Comrie wrote to the Attorney General’s Office and Athletic Commission in March urging action relating to Hot 97.
Assistant First Deputy Attorney General Francine James led the investigation and its resolution in the Attorney General’s Office with the assistance of Assistant Attorneys General Mary Fisher Bernet, Jane Azia, Galen Kirkland, and Crime Victim Advocate Mindy Bockstein.

Executive Deputy Commissioner Hugo B. Spindola handled the matter for the Athletic Commission.