Court Says “FU” to FCC

I learned about this ruling while I was deep in the Austen-Gaskell comparison and so waited till today to express my opinion.

The headline isn’t exactly accurate, but I couldn’t resist. What actually happened is that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Fox Television Stations Inc. vs. FCC struck down the rules that govern indecency on prime-time broadcast television. I believe I join a great many people in saying that while the rules may be restrictive, they also govern such a narrow band of the bandwidth that it almost doesn’t make sense to issue regulations. After all, shows that feature serious amounts of profanity or nudity have migrated to the almost-anything-goes cable stations or to the everything-goes WWW.

This particular aspect of the fight has been going on for six years and will probably continue for another six or so. It started when the FCC changed the rules to include “fleeting” expletives and other unscripted and quick “indecency,” such as Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” NBC got hit with a fine because Bono said thank you for his Golden Globe by saying it was “fucking brilliant.” If he had waited till after 10 p.m., it would have been fine, but before that time, it was a no-no.

Three judges of the appeals court said no, no to the FCC, ruling that the policy was “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.” The First Amendment demands greater specificity about what broadcasters can put on the air, the judges said.

The rules were adopted during the Bush era with a push from groups such as the Parents Television Council, which seems to want to force us all watch television suitable for two-year-olds. The FCC hasn’t decided whether to pursue an appeal. I’d say it was a colossal waste of time, time which would be far better spent making the Internet safe for children.

Broadcasters censor themselves enough at this point because they don’t want to drive away advertisers from an already shrinking market, so I really do think it is a waste of taxpayer money to fight the wealthy broadcasters.

I was amused that when the U.S. Supreme Court referred the case to the appeals court, the justices referred to “the f-word” and the “s-word.” Guess they didn’t want to risk being obscene.


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