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

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Broadcast Indecency

Posted by prof e on January 15, 2012

Broadcast radio and TV have long been the most heavily regulated media when it comes to sex, violence, coarse language, and assorted unsavory behavior. Between the hours of 6am and 10pm, when children are most likely to be in the audience, broadcasters have had to be careful to not step over the fine, and sometimes shifting, line that separates decent from indecent expression. Unlike cable TV and satellite radio, broadcast programming has had to toe the line to avoid letter-writing campaigns and FCC fines. The difference has been explained by the fact that broadcasters use public airwaves to distribute their programs to every home and receiver in a given broadcast region. Listeners and viewers don’t have to subscribe to broadcast radio and TV, it just appears when they turn on their radio or TV.

But that distinction is, according to critics, becoming irrelevant as more and more of us rely on alternative technologies to receive our audio and video programming. Cable TV and satellite and web radio and TV now reach millions of homes and viewers often don’t know, or don’t care, if the channel they have selected originated over-the-air or came by way of some other distribution technology. And increasingly broadcasters feel like they are unable to compete when customers can choose from unregulated content channels just a click away. Nearly everyone recognizes that time have changed.  Even Justice Samuel Alito Jr. was quoted this week as saying, “Broadcast TV is living on borrowed time. It is not going to be long before it goes the way of vinyl records and eight-track tapes.”

However, those in favor of maintaining stricter standards for broadcast programming argue that media consumers need a safe haven and a place where they can find some relief from nudity, profanity, and graphic violence. The past decade has seen some push-back. The Jackson-Timberlake Superbowl halftime debacle, partial nudity on NYPD Blue, and fleeting profanity in awards ceremony acceptance speeches resulted in a public outcry that was soon followed by stepped-up FCC enforcement. Millions of dollars in fines were levied and have been working through the courts as broadcasters appeal lower court decisions.

Now the US Supreme Court is trying to settle the question–does the FCC have the right to enforce laws that prohibit indecent content between 6am and 10pm on broadcast media? Before they can answer that question they may have to agree on a definition of indecent content, and that won’t be easy. George Carlin’s infamous monologue “Seven Dirty Words” is a start, but not exhaustive. And of course context is important. Dropping an F-bomb in the middle of a sitcom is one thing…hearing it from the mouth of a marine in the film Saving Private Ryan is another matter.

In a few months we’ll know what the Supreme Court has decided. In the mean time, go ahead and Google “broadcast indecency” and read a few articles and essays on both sides of the issue before you make up your mind.

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24 Responses to “Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Broadcast Indecency”

  1. Well first off media has gotten out of hand if the media has to step in with nes lawas and guidelines on tv shows. I personally feel that times dont matter because there are children that have parents that let them stay up as late as they want. The media is going to do what they want regardless of what steps into place so it should be up to the parents what the children should and should not watch. Its ludacris that the supreme court has to go through all of this just to cancel a television show that they claim is trash.

  2. Eugene Lucero said

    I personally don’t think the FCC has the right to censor all broadcasting media between 6am and 10am. I think that parents need to watch their children better and talk to them about what not to watch. I agree somethings should not be allowed on tv or the radio but that does not mean that it should not mean that everything gets blocked and censored.

  3. Bryan Horton said

    I think it’d be hard to put bans and regulations on everything. People should be watching their kids a lot more than they are. As a child I could have never gotten away with watching anything I wasn’t supposed to, but I played a lot of sports growing up, something I don’t see among many children now a days. One could make the argument that kids can stay up late and watch whatever they want, but that’s why many television’s come with parental controls. Maybe what TV’s someones’s child watches should be more focused on than what the child is actually watching.

  4. Tyler Stone said

    In my opinion the FCC has no right to censor any tv show at any time. When I was younger my parents decided what was and wasn’t fit for me to watch, until I got older and decided for myself. So naturally I do think the primary issue is the parents because they are the ones allowing their kids to watch these shows. I understand that some parents don’t care and thats unfortunate but you shouldn’t punish everyone by pushing popular shows to the late night hours. It’s also not the governments place to stick their nose and tell us what can or can’t be watched at what times of day.
    As for angry or frustrated parents there shouldn’t be much of an excuse about how kids can watch all these shows and parents can’t do anything about it. Due to the parental controls that come standard with everything now they can do something. They are on the xbox, playstations, nintendos, and almost every tv now. I received my first personal tv back in 2005. It was an older small tube tv and even that had parental controls. Not to mention that if you have comcast or direct tv they include parental controls with their basic cable packages.
    So if people had that big of a problem with a rating or a show they could just block it themselves. That is their individual choice and it should continue to be a choice, not a government regulated mandate.

  5. Deann Pantoya said

    Well I personally don’t believe that the FCC has the rights to censor what is being broadcasted on today’s media between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. for a couple of reasons. One reason is that is that in my opinion the parents are the ones who should be monitoring what their children watch. I believe that there are plently of other shows on during that time period that are suitable for children. However, I do agree that in today’s media there are some shows that are indecency, but that doesn’t mean that the FCC has the right to block every bit of indecency that comes on the TV or radio. I believe if someone thinks that something is indecent, then don’t listen to it or watch it. There are plenty of other things they can listen to on the radio or watch on TV.

  6. Jennifer Hackett said

    I think the FCC has a right to regulate shows between 6am and 10pm to an extent. Although, in reality, how would they regulate all of those shows for that length of time? Some shows have lots of indecency, but not all of them so if you don’t want to see it or hear crude language then don’t watch that show. Adults are grown up and should know what is appropriate for them. As for kids, parents should be monitoring what their kids watch. It’s not the broadcasters fault if parents let their children watch whatever they want and their child sees gore or hears bad words. I’m sure they will hear or see worse on video games or hear another kid in their class say bad things. Today, broadcasters like comcast have parental blocks so they can put censors on what their kids watch themselves and decide what is right and what isn’t right for them to see. I do think that the question of what indecent content is will be the greater argument than just deciding if broadcasting media between those hours is right or not.

  7. kginter5 said

    I remember as a kid there was basically no profanity aloud on television now with all these shows (i.e. Jersey Shore and plenty others) where they are basically saying everything other than the F word. You can make the argument that parents need to monitor their kids and what they are watching but when it eventually is on every show and station how can you control that, therefore there needs to be regulations on these channels. If you need sex drugs and violence that’s what subscription television is for and it should remain that way. When Snookie does a cartwheel I’d rather not see whats up her skirt I prefer the blur.

  8. Deherrera Stephanie said

    I don’t think that the FCC has the right to censor all broadcasting media between 6am and 10am maybe only to a certain extent. I think that a big part of it has to do with the parents and what they allow their children to watch they can control what they watch and should know what shows are appropiate and not appropiate for them to see. There is other shows that are going to be on that are appropiate for kids to watch. Sure they are interested in the other shows that are not appropiate but they need to know the difference from what’s right and wrong. That’s where the parents need to come in.

  9. Eugene Lucero said

    I really don’t know what to think about this topic. I agree that there should be some regulations on what is aloud on television and radio. But if the FCC has it there way there will be nothing on television. I don’t think we should allow them to completely change what we watch and listen to. I personally believe that the regulations we have now are just fine and I would allow my son to watch anything or listen to anything that is on public broadcasting.

  10. Raul de Anda said

    I believe that the FCC sometimes does good with censorship in some ways but I believe that bad out ways the good in many cases. Television is a great way to spend time and many children love it for that reason, I think that the TV should be less censored then it is. Every device today has chips in them that can take out or allow certain shows to go through. I think that people should just use that product so that the FCC can ease down on censorship.

  11. Brandyn Baca said

    Tv chooses what you “learn”, the web on the other hand lets you do the research. The web lets us find out what we want to hear about. It also allows us to entertain are self’s with what ever we put in that little search query.I Do agree with Samuel Alito Jr. when he says that “Tv is on borrowed time”. The new “stars” of today can be found on YouTube. YouTube has a large amount of videos of every category possible. Its like having millions of different tv channels.When people do want to watch tv most of it can be found on the web anyways so tv really has hit a dead end.Although i do not believe it will get discontinued like VHS and 8 Tracks.

  12. Shelby Moore said

    As much as it kills me to say this, I believe the FCC has every right to censor the media broadcasted out to our society. As much as we would like to argue that we can just cover children’s eyes and “protect” them, we know we can’t know exactly when something inappropriate will pop onto the screen or will be said on a radio station. For me, I live on CSU Pueblo’s campus in the dorms. I was shocked to see that because our basic cable isn’t so “basic” and coming into my room from getting some late night food, my television decides to be on the channel with a not so expected image. I had no idea that I would be able to watch sex acts on T.V. and just have it be ok. I understand that I am almost 20 years old and have seen naked bodies in movies before, but what if I had a significantly younger sibling stay the night with me while our parents went on vacation and they saw that? I think that would scar them for basically life! The FCC has a purpose and if we wish to view content in its original form we would do so. New technologies life satellite radio and watching television or movies on Netflix have made things easier for the viewer to control. The FCC will soon enough figure out all the bumps in the road and will hopefully smooth things out in the future.

  13. Josh Clark said

    I think there should be some form of regulation from the FCC to regulate content that is on shows. There is enough questionable material on numerous channels that I think some form of regulation should be put on these channels. Yes a great deal of this requires the parents regulating what their children are watching and telling them what is right or wrong. And maybe we are getting to a point where the content isn’t regulated on the air and parents rely a lot more on parental controls and block the channels they don’t want their children watching.
    But I still think there needs to be some sort of boundary. I don’t think it would be right for this content to be allowed to viewed 24/7 because what are parents going to do block all of the channels on their television? Sure that is an extreme but I think if we get rid of these regulations there is a greater risk of children becoming exposed to this content and why take the risk when it can be prevented with these regulations?

  14. Jordan Rademaker said

    I think that the FCC should have the right to censor public television between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm. Because it does make sense, the majority of parents in America I think wouldn’t like their children to see or hear nudity, profanity and graphic violence. And obviously most children won’t be watching TV anytime later than those hours. Because their are so many other ways to view this media it shouldn’t be such a problem that the FCC is censoring the programs, people are now more easily able to go elsewhere to watch it.

  15. Caitlin Norton said

    In my opinion, the FCC has no right to censor all broadcasting media between 6am and 10am. The minute they do start getting involved, I believe will be the end to Broadcast TV, which is already living on borrowed time. The FCC defines broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” But what is offensive to someone might not be the same for someone else. Each person watching is different and everyone has the right to decide what is appropriate to watch. Parents need to be the ones to make these decisions for their own children. Censoring Broadcast TV is not the right solution because whatever they try to censor will be available from other forms of media that most everyone will be able to obtain. Also, will cable at a low, sites like Hulu and Netflix is allowing people to choose what they want to watch, when they want to without worrying about censorship. I believe that there are bigger things to worry about then broadcast indecency.

  16. Vickie said

    The FCC is going to regulate everything that is broadcast regardless of the content. Although I find it funny that there are specific terms and words that cannot be used on air between these specific times, they still regulate more than is in my mind reasonable. Have you ever seen the way “The Breakfast Club” was edited when it was showed on Vh1? The epic line of “eat my shorts” was changed to “eat my socks”… Now, wouldn’t you think that people who have seen this movie let’s say fifty times would already know what the line would be? Yes. Producers and even comedians could argue that the viewing of their material is changed considerable because of FCC regualtions. They have parental warnings and advisories before programs with indecent language or content already so if you’re a parent letting your child watch South Park you know the kind of language they use. But if your child is being allowed to watch Tropic Thunder than I believe that falls on the parents shoulders. If the public is going to complain about types of content during the day then maybe they should or have their children do something other than watch TV or listen to the radio all day long. Read a book, go outside and have more of a life than worrying about if the FCC is regulating radio and television enough.

  17. Brittany Gutierrez said

    I don’t see how the the FCC and regulate so much during that certain time frame, and now it is hard to tell what exactly some people consider indecent content. In Nudity, Fleeting Expletives and Lies at the end it even says that the FCC needs to clarify what is indecent or make changes to laws. It seems more of a battle of bothering a couple people that could be offended than those who are actually offended by things. The huge block of time that they want to censor the broadcasting is just going to make people not want to watch the things they are broadcasting. Some people like myself like to see the original show and now things that are tip-toed around so they do not hurt someones feelings. This doesn’t mean show full frontal nudity for 30 seconds, but at least let a few explicits out. If a parent is watching a show with explicits in it, their child should not even be around the television.

  18. Brittany Cawthra said

    Well I don’t believe that the FCC has the rights to censor what is being broadcasted on today’s media.parents are the ones who should be monitoring what their children watch because letsa be honest almost all shows have some form of bad content. I believe that there are plently of other shows on during that time period that are suitable for children. but, I do agree that in today’s media there are some shows that are indecency, but that doesn’t mean that the FCC has the right to block every bit of indecency that comes on the TV or radio. I believe if someone thinks that something is indecent, then don’t watch it turn the channel. There are plenty of other things they can listen to on the radio or watch on TV.

  19. Jovaun Rodriguez said

    In the discussion between having the FCC regulate what should be on television and what should not be said or shown on televsion is based on what is decent and accepted in society and has become a shared arguement because of the rights of the 1st amendment making this some how cancel out because of the incident of the exposure of nudity on NYPD blue on ABC that had been fined $ 1.24 million for indecency. This and the change of the re write of the stolen valor act takes part of the 1st amendment but yet still needs to be changed for new law purposes. If this becomes a different law towards the stolen valor act it can possibly leak into the indecency of what is shown on telvision, despite the complications of what is happening of the arguement of the 1st amendment and how its portrayed. Therefore for the problem that was consistent in the article of “nudity, Fleeting Expletives and Lies” it had been drawn out for the future of how possible media will be regulated in the future if change is known to pass .

  20. Raven Pelfrey said

    I think the FCC has a small right to regulate what goes on the air. Certain things may be indecent to a large majority of viewers, but like this article states, they need to come to a consensus on what indecent means to them and to the public. Then again is this time of regulating cutting into the show’s first amendment rights? Shouldn’t they be able to put what they want on television? I can remember a time when t.v was just staring and people were degusted at the thought of putting a toilet, or someone showering, on screen. Now a days how many of those scenes do we get hourly? Our taste for what goes on television, sadly, is evolving and we are becoming desensitized. Perhaps now we can but brief periods of nudity on the air, like discussed in “Nudity, Fleeting Expletives and Lies” about the television show NYPD Blue and their seven second shot of a naked woman’s buttocks. But I didn’t see any personal complaints from viewers, just companies.

  21. Ronell McNeal Jr. said

    I think that tv shows have the right to show what they want. As long as they give a worning and tell that the content is explict it the viewers choice to watch or not. i also think that children should not watch these type of shows so the parents need to do there job and either put blocks on the channels or make sure they arent watching them. Its not that hard. Is legal for the tv shows to show sexual content as said in the Nudity, Fleeting Expletives and Lies The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 Term and the First Amendment i belive that it is with in the amendment laws. Now that doesnt mean go over board and broadcast things that just shouldn’t be shown. Everyone should have enough common sense to find a agreement.

  22. Justin Kitch said

    Much like the article Nudity, Fleeting Expletives and Lies, this article also one of the main points of should the FCC be able to regulate indecency and bad language. In my opinion if the FCC wants to make laws about this they need to be very specific on what exactly is unacceptable language and nudity and also at what times they would want these laws to be regulated. But i feel that they should not be able to regulate this at all. The parents of the younger people watching and listening to these broadcasts should be watching and regulating their own children and be able to be responsible enough to to regulate how their children are exposed to the mass media. Another point of this would be the obvious explanation of a broadcast simply just giving warnings as they all do and this would reduce “inappropriate exposure” to young people. I feel that the FCC should only be able to regulate the ratings of these broadcast and not the actual content of a show.

  23. Morgan Hartfield said

    In my opinion I feel that the FCC should have some authority over what it broadcast-ed but at the same time i feel as though it’s the parents responsibility to take the initiative of parenting and be aware of what their kid is being exposed to not just on the television but in video games the internet etc.as a child my mom regulated what i watched and made sure that i wasn’t being exposed to something a child shouldn’t see.Even though the majority of the people watching TV is children between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. doesn’t mean they have to watch other programs other than the ones that are advised for them.They make more then one program for kids to watch during the day like Disney Channel, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, plus some. In the article “Nudity,Fleeting Expletives and Lies”regardless of what the FCC says and tries to give people these fines nothings going to happen until the fully explain and have a definition of what it means to be indecent on TV regardless if that involves swearing,nudity,or violence.In this situation of determining what is considered indecent i feel as though the FCC should leave that up to Americans to vote, because if they go ahead and determine it themselves and filter every channel then their going to piss people off.

  24. Aimee Harmon said

    Why should the FCC be able to prohibit “indecent” content when everyone’s idea of indecent varies? Someone who grew up in the city of LA could have a very different idea of material that should be banned compared to someone who grew up in a desolate area like Kansas. According to Turow, the Ratings Board is made up of a small number of people who have no qualifications other than “parenthood experience”. Think of that. The television we watch is rated “G, PG, or mature” simply because those specific parents wouldn’t want their specific children to watch it. The FCC banning certain “indecent” exposure somewhat seems like a waste of time. Children are going to be monitored on their television, and are guarded off of things such as “strong language, violence, and sexual situations” but when they go to school they hear the language on buses by older students, and when they’re out in public they see violent and aggressive behavior and they’re able to roam the internet and find the same, if not worse, sexual situations. I feel as if it is better to expose these children to this reality that is society earlier on in small doses, that way when they are thrown into it as young adults they aren’t completely overwhelmed and unprepared.

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