prof. e.

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

Broadcast v Cable Indecency

Posted by prof e on June 25, 2012

What is indecent when it comes to television programming, and does it matter whether it is delivered over-the-air or via cable or satellite or computer? Those are just some of the questions facing TV network executives today. In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court last week said that ABC and FOX will not have to pay fines imposed by the FCC after episodes of fleeting indecency. The ABC TV network had been fined for airing an episode of NYPD Blue that contained seven seconds of a woman’s backside while FOX had been fined for airing awards shows in which speakers used expletives in their unscripted remarks. According to the Court, the FCC policies were too vague and therefore violated the broadcasters’ rights to due process according to the Fifth Amendment.

However, despite the unanimous ruling (Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused herself), the Court left in place the FCC’s right to regulate the airwaves. This right was established by the 1978 decision FCC vs. Pacifica. The now famous case was in response to a radio station airing George Carlin’s monologue about dirty words. According to the ruling the government has a right to regulate indecent speech–which would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment–at times when children are likely to be present in the audience. This has resulted in a policy that makes the hours between 10pm and 6am a “safe harbor” for indecent (but not obscene) speech since children are not expected to be viewing TV or listening to the radio during these hours.

The real confusion for many people is that broadcast TV is indiscernible from cable TV, and neither look much different from TV programming streaming on their computer or tablet. However the FCC, and its regulatory process, only applies to over-the-air broadcast TV. When NBC TV network is only two clicks away on the remote control from ESPN, History Channel, or MTV, the fact that NBC is prohibited from showing indecent content from 6am till 10pm while the others are free to do so seems, well, odd. Historically the distinction between public airwaves and private cable networks made sense, but today is appears to be unfair or inconsistent.

According to Edward Wyatt, writing in the NY Times,

All of which leaves broadcasters with little real grasp of what is allowed and what is not. Similarly, the public has no idea what to expect; the next time Cher appears on a live awards show, should adult viewers cover the ears of their 8-year-olds, or can they depend on the broadcasters to censor indecent content?

 The National Association of Broadcasters, the trade group that represents the broadcasting industry, has asked for relaxed governmental regulation and a move towards self-regulation…a model that is used, for example, by the motion picture industry.
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5 Responses to “Broadcast v Cable Indecency”

  1. Christine Jun said

    Whether it be cable, satellite, or just plain old regular television, the FCC is making way too big of a deal about indecency. I’d agree, there’s a limit to how much should be shown on television, i.e. full on nudity (especially if it’s only for giggles, that’s inappropriate) but the fact that they are trying to crack down on every single instance of it is getting a little ridiculous. Of all things to worry about in this world I don’t believe that indecency should have made it this high on the list. So in 2003 we saw a woman’s butt for seven seconds, big whoop. Have we never seen a butt before? The FCC makes it sound like World War 10 is going on because a fifth of the nation saw a butt on TV. Whatever shall we do?

  2. Gianna Lisac said

    I would agree that there shoud be a limit to the content that is allowed on television. However, in regards to an awards show or other live programs, there is no way to control what is said, and the sensors are usually timely in “bleeping out” anything that is obscene anyway. As stated in the article, Nudity, Fleeting Explitives and Lies on Communication Currents, the FCC should be in control of monotoring what is broadcast. I disagree though on how it is done. The FCC can only be responsible for so much and should not micro-manage network programing to such an extreme extent. As long as there is nothing absolutely obscene being shown, (i.e. full nudity, excessive swearing or drug use) then there should not be so much emphasis put on what is being shown. It seems that there is quite a bit of time and money being spent on these issues that could probably be used more effectively elsewhere in the legal system. Ultimately, it is the job of the parents to monitor what their children are watching. Therefore, if there is a show with questionable content, then individual parents should make the final decision for their children, since the debate largely revolves around the program air times. Some people might actually be intrested in the programs and their content, and should not miss out because the FCC is trying to accommodate the sensitivities of various groups. In all, there are some things that just don’t need to be seen or heard by certain eyes and ears, but the society as a whole cannot succumb to the censorship that is being determined by one group.

  3. Eric Gomez said

    I have to disagree that the FCC emphasizes the regulation placed on indecency a little too much. Do i find some the indecent content aired on television, such as seven seconds of a woman’s backside or foul language, to be acceptable, no. Most parents would agree. The FCC tries to do a good job in ensuring that inappropriate content aired on television and radio is not accessible to younger audiences. The problem is that not everybody agrees with what is taking it too far. Who’s to say what is a little too inappropriate The FCC has to think about what is appropriate for the entire audience. For some, even making a bold reference to vulgarity can be a little too offensive. It only makes sense to censor because in the long run censoring too much is better than not censoring enough.

  4. I agree that the FCC should limit the content that is allowed on television to an extent. Yes, I do believe that nudity should be monitored on television and so far I feel as if they are doing a great job with that. I mean sure some channels can get away with it because it’s a private cable network. As far as vulgar language during an awards show, some of those individuals shouldn’t be fined. Bono for instance was expressing his excitement for his accomplishment, you can’t be mad at that after all the first amendment does give you the right to say what you want. If the words coming from an individual don’t offend anybody or are meant to degrade/disrespect an individual, religion, or race than let them express themselves through their choice of words. I understand that the FCC is not going to be able to manage every little bit of questionable content on television. So why waste the time to fine individuals for speaking their mind. If it’s not excessive vulgar language or nudity than they should focus their efforts towards the more questionable content such as drug use, full nudity, and extreme amounts of curse words. If any of that content is on basic cable than yes there is a problem. People are in a world where this type of content is seen and heard regardless of what the FCC is doing so censorship is only doing so much. It’s never going to be completely done away with due to the excessive amount. But you can’t ignore the efforts by the FCC to regulate as much of the content that’s seen offensive by people in today’s society.

  5. Dorothy Perea said

    Nudity, Fleeting Expletives and Lies the author discusses several incidences in which the First Amendment has been questionably applied and defended. The two main cases pertaining to media were the FCC fines of the ABC Network for airing nudity during prime time hours, while the FOX Network was allowed to air profanity from celebrities during award ceremonies.
    To me, these issues should not even have been brought into question. We are living in a more progressive society. I understand someone may not want their 8 year old to hear their favorite musician swearing up a storm or see some woman’s rear end, but there are far more harmful media issues that are not being addressed by the FCC.
    Shouldn’t we focus more on eliminating and regulating content that perpetuates stereotyping, xenophobia and violence? Media that may potentially promote irresponsible behavior?
    Since 9/11, I have seen several prime time dramas where there has been some crime being committed by Islamic terrorist. Why does the terrorist have to be Islam? That gives children a bad impression about people from the Islam culture. I see this type of media leading to hate crimes, which is far more dangerous than a naked person or a handful of dirty words.
    I know current day issues are what sell in the media and that this content, depending on how you look at it, can be put into the self-regulations category. But I do think they are important regulations to be considered.

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