prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Indecency on trial

Posted by prof e on November 11, 2011

How do you define indecency? Do you know it when you see it? Or hear it? Are fleeting expletives indecent? Or does it depend on the context? And most importantly, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines at stake, who gets to decide what is and what isn’t indecent? The National Association of Broadcasters recently filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing that the FCC’s enforcement of indecency rules is too vague and subjective, making it impossible for broadcasters to know what content might be subject to fines.

Some are wondering whether this brief is part of a larger effort to relax indecency regulations for broadcasters. Broadcasters, who have historically been much more restricted than cable networks when it comes to language, sex and violence, have felt that this differential treatment puts them at a disadvantage in an increasingly competitive environment. However, according to a quote published in Broadcasting & Cable, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said, “We do agree with the networks and the Second Circuit that the FCC’s indecency policies are unconstitutionally vague and chill broadcasters’ protected speech. However, we do not call for the overturning of Pacifica or Red Lion.” Wharton’s references to “Pacifica” and “Red Lion” refer to Supreme Court cases that are foundational to broadcast regulation.

The debate has heated up in recent years after several incidents of offensive language on live awards shows and scripted nudity on NYPD Blues attracted the attention of Parents Television Council. The recent overturning of the $550,000 fine against CBS for the now infamous wardrobe malfunction in the 2004 Superbowl halftime show suggests that the courts are less inclined to side with the FCC. What do you think? Has indecency enforcement been too aggressive, too lax, or too uneven?

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22 Responses to “Indecency on trial”

  1. First of all I have to say I believe in the first ammendment. Even if it offends me I understand that somone somewhere wanted to express something, and I respect that, even if i do not respect the way they got the point across. However I think that in some cases there must be limits on the expression of ideas and images when the public pays for it. For example broadcast signals that can be picked up by anyone with a reciever or any signal that falls within the catefory of public airwaves should be regulated. The public should not have to pay for violent or explicit images and ideas to be poured into the heads of children. There should be rules about language, excessive violence (ie: someone getting bashed in the head with a hammer or stabbed violently with the event actually shown), and sexual themes (kissing acceptable, even the most subtle footage of intercourse…. not acceptable). These limitations I believe should end once mediums such as satellite come into the equation. If you choose to pay the fee to put a dish on your house and select a channal package then you are accepting the content that comes with it. There are ratings guides on every show, and there are content moniters to block content not acceptable for children from site. Of course this will require parents to actually parent instead of simply seitting their children down in front a television as a “babysitter”. Channals on satellite and such mediums are meant to appeal to a niche interest so if an individual finds one channal offensive they should simply find a new one, most likely the target audience was entertained. Ratings are a great gatekeeper of media if the majority of the audience does not approve then ratings will be too low for a show to survive. The quote I know it when I see does not neccesarilly have to apply to one person only, when the audience at large knows it sees obscenity then the show’s ratings die and so too does the show itself. I believe we as people should respect the freedom of speech of others, and act as our own gatekeepers. I don’t believe we need a government organization to tell us what we think is acceptable or not acceptable outside the realm of public airwaves.

  2. Jason Cowan said

    The first ammendment was made for a reason, and people should respect the concept of it. If people think something is indecent on television, they should just avoid the programming. If they think it is not suitable for children, there is the V-Chip. The FCC does have very vague guidelines, and it seems like broadcastable content is lessening by the year. There is technology in this day and age that can block unwanted content, so why don’t we put it to the use. It would put an end to silly conflicts like these. It will be up to the people to use this technology to block things they might not want to see.

  3. Carl said

    Indecency is extremely hard to describe in specific terms just because everyone has their own opinion of what’s indecent and what isn’t. The vague definition is basically something that is considered offensive or vulgar. That’s where the problem is, you can’t define it anymore without getting to a personal level. Censoring isn’t always the answer, just take the internet as an example. The internet is full of uncensored material but yet it’s become one of the most popular forms of media around the world. Despite the considerable amount of “indecent” material that can be found on it, users still enjoy all it has to offer, including the freedoms to those “indecent” parts. I believe censorship makes people more sensitive to certain material, and tends to make matters worse. I agree with Jason and Matt, the First Amendment plays an extremely important role in this issue. It’s our right to speak our minds, however so we choose to do it (With movies, writing, speeches, music, etc.) and if someone doesn’t like it, they can turn off the TV, change the web page, dislike the video, change the radio dial, or plug their ears!

  4. Taelor Huddleston said

    in this day of age im not really sure what is indecent. to me and all my friends with think less things are indecent but to my grandparents they think going out to a party where there is drinking (even if you are of age) is indecent. so my point is other people may think “something is indecent” where to other people that “something” is not indecent. we are lucky enough now where there are programs that you can block so they cant reach your TV or interent. people will always complain though, it is human nature. they think it should just not be allowed because it is “indecent” to them and they should’nt have to lock it, it just shouldnt be there. its like what we talked about in class where you cross the line. i remember it being a huge argument in class too. everyone has their own opinions and it will be hard to please everybody.

  5. Greg Burch said

    I agree with the first ammendment. We have a right to say what we think. TV staions have that little censor button they can use. They also have tv ratings to let people know why the tv station geve that type of programming that rating. Technology has now change to even block tv showings that you find innappropriate and disgusting! People just need to chill out becuase I think the sytem works perfectly. We now have the power to have the choice to watch a type of show or not. But like Taelor said, It is human nature and people are going to complain no matter what.

  6. scott said

    well to start i think that the fine against the super bowl wardrobe malfunction that is just overturning i feel is completely ridiculous! it feels like people just want something to talk about and cause more and more drama! i believe as well that everyone should have the right to say what they want and feel and be able to express themselves, because i know that i as well express myself and may say things that offend others. but i do believe this to a point, if people are going out of their ways to say something just to purposely offend someone i feel it is completely out of line. we as people have the power to choose what we say and choose what we see and how we personally view things, so indecency is in the eye of the beholder!

  7. love23 said

    i truly agree with scott, people just love turning things into a bigger deal then they need to be, which is because they love feeding off drama. they also have a hard time moving past things and looking forward rather then back. whats innapropriate to one person may be completely appropriate to another. like i always say, if you dont wanna hear or see something then dont look or listen to it. you have the right to choose what you wanna do and if you dont wanna be a part of something you look down upon then remove yourself from it! we will never all agree or have the same opinion so it’s better to be left with a variety of choices and go with what you believe.

  8. Dakota said

    Only the people can view things how they want to and when it comes down to it, people should be able to reflect on what they see and what they get out of it without any consequence. This is their own personal right and we should all be able to express ourselves without punishment. Now when things happen such as the incident at the super bowl that year, consequences should be put into action, There is a fine line on when things become too serious, but as long as things dont get too serious, they should be allowed.

  9. Dustin Yourishin said

    In my opinion, whether or not the incident was on purpose or an accident needs to be taken into consideration.
    obviously, during the 2004 superbowl, an accident occurred and I agree with the decision to overturn the fine. But when it comes to things like scripted nudity on NYPD Blue, there needs to be zero tolerance. I see things like that as a deliberate disobeying of federal rules, and consequences should not be taken lightly. Shows on regular cable networks have to right to include scripted nudity in my opinion. So overall, I think that the rules may need to change a little bit to accommodate for accidents, while still being tough on purposeful offenders.

  10. Kenneth Martinez said

    I think it is a little vague, and depends on who you ask. They do seem to me a little to strict on some things. The superbowl thing is out of their control. So are award shows. If they want to fine someone fine the people doing these things on the air not the broadcast company. I just think if you have a problem with certain things then you shouldn’t be watching those shows. They weren’t made for you.

  11. Sharlee Lopez said

    Peoples views of indecency vary, and I know my idea of it would be way different then someone else’s. The way people are raised and the environment they are surrounded in definitely alter their views of it.Someone who was raised in a overly conservative household is likely to be more senstive to more topics then someone who was raised in relaxed household. People are overly sensitive, and need to get over it. T.V and music is too filtered, and if someone doesn’t like it they can change the channel or just not listen. I don’t think children were scarred for life when they got to see Janet Jackson’s nipple, and that whole incident got blown out of proportion.

  12. Trevor Soole said

    The first amendment gives the right to free speech does it not? This debate has been going on for so long that it’s almost become moot. Indecency is a standard that is ideally set by societal norms and translated by moral entrepreneurs to make those standards into actual laws or rules. Indecency in language and media in general is a tough one because the social standard changes between ages. For example, what is indecent for a child to hear is most likely not that indecent for someone in their 40’s. NYPD blue does not typically intrigue a younger audience so what is indecent for them to show would, in my opinion, have to be indecent for the typical audience member. Parents should be monitoring what a child is watching up to a certain age in my belief anyway. I’ve always believed that education is the best medicine for any social problem. If indecency is a problem it’s because children see their role models (parents) reacting negatively to the indecency. I say inform children why something like a boob slip in a Superbowl game might be wrong but explain to them that life is what you make of it.

  13. Viola Vineyard said

    The first amendment was made to be followed. There are a lot of things people don’t like to see on television, what do they do? Change the channel. If you don’t like it don’t watch it. I believe that it is unfair how some shows are rated sometimes because a show could be perfectly family friendly and just have one bad word through out the whole move and that makes it “not” family friendly. Honestly just change the channel or better yet, don’t be so sensitive.

  14. Ryne Neal said

    Too uneven. It all comes back to the first amendment, and where the right of me saying and showing whatever I want, but at the same time people have right to not see or hear anything I have that is vulgar. Television has pushed the limits to everything and anything that they can or can not do. The FCC needs to even out their rules, not be so aggressive, but not too lax either. The question that remains is how do you make fair rules that satisfies everyone.

  15. Marshall VanderPutten said

    I agree with the majority of people in that indecency is dependent on the individual. What is indecent to me most certainly is not indecent to the next person. This will continue to be a never ending battle about what is too far and what is not, because of the first amendment and the vagueness in it. I of course believe in free speech, but at what cost and at what price is freedom of speech or expression worthy. I think if we were to have no regulation in media, it would turn into a slippery slope. I do believe that there is a certain line that can be crossed and a majority of people could agree that it was indecent. That is the line I could see media going if it were to be regulated less. All in all I think they have been vague in setting guidelines for what is and what is not appropriate.

  16. I believe Indecency is a man made concept that will always be hard to control. It idea of obscenity has changed dramatically especially since the early ages of the television to now. Imagine Elvis, his young following and the enraged parents of the 1950’s watching even three minutes of today’s MTV. Media likes to push the boundaries and it’s continues to do so until its not longer taboo..then it’s on to the next crazy idea. A lot of media today is pushing the “racy” subject of homosexuality. I put racy in italics because I really don’t think homosexuality is a big issue, especially in my generation and the generations to come..but mid-west rifle toting buckaroos are the majority of American. Although I don’t agree, I could see how two men or two women kissing could be entirely to un-Godly for some close minded people.
    In some ways breaking rules can be a bad thing, leading to the deterioration of our society…(ahem Jersey Shore) but it could also create force open mindedness to subjects that need to be addressed, like homosexuality.

  17. Steven Medina said

    Indecency is something that only a person can decide if it’s wrong or good. Whatever the situation, it depends on the person and how they interpret it. To them, they will take it either offensive, find it funny, or would not care. Society has changed drastically these past few decades. My grandparents were not exposed to Jersey Shore or hip/hop music when they were my age. So they would call what they watch or hear is indecent. To us and our generation, we are so used to being around indecency whether if it’s television, Internet, music, advertisements, etc. To me, I do not mind indecency. It does not really bother me too much. It’s our generation and it is all entertainment. I know what is right from wrong and I know about respect. I know what is indecent but I don’t mind being entertained anyways.

  18. Ian Walker said

    Indecency is a highly subjective thing. What one person considers total and utter blasphemy may be considered not a big (or possibly even humorous) to another person. As such, it is a difficult thing to classify by nature. In my own opinion, catering to the most sensitive by considering everything that offends them as indecent seems a bit extreme, but if they want to keep complaints at a minimum, it may be the most effective way to handle things. Alternatively, they could add in a more complete and helpful warning/alert system as to what a certain piece includes as far as indecency, and therefore hopefully tip people off that they may be about to view or otherwise be engaged with content that they may find indecent.

  19. Joseph Devendorf said

    Sure the first amendment does protect their right to free speech assembly and press and I agree that bad language, sex, and violence should not be allowed on broadcast television, but the FCC is too vague and these broadcast networks are getting fined a lot of money because they don’t seem to be clear cut on what is and isn’t appropriate. It’s basically a coin toss for these broadcast networks as to if they’ll be fined or not by the FCC.

  20. Isaiah Smith said

    The first amendmant defnietly has a use here, I believe freedom of speech is broad and should be attributed to a large range of things. The National Broadcasters Association has a right to file such a claim. The FCC in my opinion is out to regulate content in order to fit their agenda or to make a profit simply put.

  21. Justin said

    Whether a person thinks that something is indecent largely depends on what that person defines as indecency. The opinion of people’s take on indecency is going to vary largely. I think some things are being blown out of proportion by the FCC. However, I do think that some things are pretty bad and something should be done about it. If someone cusses on an award show then they should be subjected to a fine.

  22. Rob Lee said

    I do not think of how to think about this subject. I do feel certain things need to change the way the FCC runs its agency and its fines, but I am not person to determine that. I think things could improve if the FCC would lax their rules less than it currently is.

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