ST. GEORGE – Currently the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t allow for certain language and nudity over the public airwaves. This could change, however, depending on how a proposal from the FCC to revisit its policy regulations plays out. Many are concerned that a policy revision will relax current standards.
FCC cuts through backlog of complaints, considers possible policy change in wake of Supreme Court ruling
The FCC is the enforcer of federal law overseeing obscenity, indecency and profanity in broadcasting. It acts on complaints filed by the public, not on its own monitoring of broadcasts.
According to an April 1 FCC public notice, since September 2012, the Commission has reduced its backlogged “broadcast indecency complaints” by 70 percent – more than a million complaints. Many complaints were dropped for legal reasons, such as being too stale to pursue, insufficient information, or lack of jurisdiction.
Per FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s order in September 2012, the commission was directed to focus on the more egregious complaints.
Genachowski initiated review of the commission’s indecency policies after a ruling against the FCC in a case involving Fox Television Stations. The FCC attempted to penalize Fox for letting celebrities utter the F-word during the Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003.
According to the FCC website, it has the authority to “revoke a station license, impose a monetary forfeiture or issue a warning if a station airs obscene, indecent or profane material.”
The FCC fined Fox for the incidents, but was later ruled against by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012 for not allowing the broadcaster due process through fair notice beforehand.
Changes to current broadcast policies governing indecency are also being considered; with public comment being sought on the matter.
Possible policy changes
“We now seek comment on whether the full Commission should make changes to its current broadcast indecency policies or maintain them as they are,” the public notice reads.
Should the FCC continue to treat “isolated” incidents of expletives (profanity) as it does now – penalizing and fining the broadcasters that allow it? Should the FCC focus on incidents where the use of expletives is considered “deliberate and repetitive” to the point of what could be considered offensive and indecent? These are just sample questions to be considered.
Public comment is also suggested for policy on isolated or fleeting incidents of nonsexual nudity.
No specifics of a proposed policy or policy change are included in the FCC’s notice.
Public comment period
The public comment period opened April 1. As of April 17 there have been over 72,400 responses on the FCC website. Individuals interested in commenting online can do so here.
The public comment period ends on April 30.
Advocates for families respond
Not everyone likes the idea of the current standards being relaxed on regular broadcast television or the radio and some are inferring from the notice that policy change would do just that.
Tim Winters, president of the Parents Television Council, said “The FCC’s announcement today is deeply vexing … On behalf of millions of families, the PTC firmly believes that the FCC should not limit indecency enforcement only to ‘egregious’ vs. isolated instances. The FCC is supposed to represent the interests of the American public, not the interests of the entertainment industry.”
“Either material is legally indecent or it is not,” Winters said. If the changes are made to the current standards, he also said it “will guarantee nothing but a new rash of new litigation.”
Winters concluded: “… We insist that the FCC give greatest heed to the voices of those who own the airwaves and who continue to support the broadcast decency law as necessary to protect their children.”
The American Family Association has also decried the policy change, stating that “if enacted, the new FCC policy would allow network television and local radio stations to air the f-word, the s-word and to allow programs to show frontal female nudity, even during hours when they know children will be watching and listening.”
While changes to broadcast policies would have an effect on television broadcasts, changes would apply to radio stations as well. If changes in policy allow harsher profanity and the like, will it affect local radio broadcasters?
“I don’t think it will,” said Chris Nelson, operations manager for Canyon Media. Southern Utah has a conservative market, he said, and broadcasters need to cater to that market.
“As broadcasters our job is to reflect the market that we work in,” Nelson said.
Cherry Creek radio management in Southern Utah has been contacted for comment but has not been available to comment as this story is published. Any comment received from them will be added by update.
FCC April 2001 Policy Statement “to provide guidance to the broadcast industry regarding our case law interpreting 18 U.S.C. §1464 and our enforcement policies with respect to broadcast indecency.”
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