F This S: How the TV Nets Fight for Your Rights
CBS, Fox and ABC are rushing to federal court to protect your constitutional right. Which one? Why, it's the right to open a valve and let all manner of sewage flow into your home.
The spineless Federal Communications Commission, which likes to pretend that it can do virtually nothing to halt the flow of trash into American homes, actually declared some over-the-air broadcasts indecent last month, ruling that CBS' The Early Show, Fox's Billboard Music Awards, and ABC's NYPD Blue violated community standards by broadcasting variations on two obscenities, the "F" word and the "S" word. In some instances, these uses of the words happened spontaneously during a live show; in other cases, they were scripted. No matter: In either event, the networks think this is just fine. After all, they argue, anything goes on pay cable and in the movies, so why not on broadcast TV too?
"The FCC overstepped its authority in an attempt to regulate content protected by the First Amendment, acted arbitrarily and failed to provide broadcasters with a clear and consistent standard," the broadcasters argue in their appeal of the indecency ruling.
In truth, the FCC's approach to decency questions over the past three decades has been remarkably and consistently tolerant bordering on licentious. Even the oft-cited but poorly understood George Carlin ruling did not ban the infamous Seven Dirty Words; rather, it quite reasonably restricted the naughtiest of language to off-hours, when kids are unlikely to be listening. And no one who listened to raunch radio through the 90s and early 00s could possibly argue that the FCC is remotely restrictive about matters of sex, bodily functions or coarse language.
Yet when the FCC shows the slightest inclination to say that hey, there is still a difference between TV that you choose and pay for and TV that flows over the public airwaves into any house with a television or radio, the networks--which hardly ever show any interest in pushing the envelope in political speech or in news coverage or in building community or teaching civics--transform themselves into Protectors of the Constitution, Naughty Bits Division.
The FCC is not exactly the Spanish Inquisition here; the ruling against a use of a variation on the S word on the NYPD Blue program wasn't even an outright ban: It said that use of the word at 9 pm (when the show aired in the Central and Mountain time zones) was a bit much, but use of the same word at 10 pm (when the show aired in the Eastern and Western time zones) was fine. Doesn't sound terribly like state oppression, does it?
The feds long ago gave up on the idea that they had any significant role in supervising the public airwaves on behalf of parents and children. They're now dipping a little toe into the regulation waters only because Congress blew its top over the Janet Jackson reveal at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. But even in our incredibly coarsened society, there is still a difference between HBO and ABC, between R-rated movies and free home TV--for one, you have to make a choice and pay a bill; the other is public, available to all. The FCC should not only recognize and enforce that difference, but it should also reassert its role in licensing radio and TV stations. Make it a goal to strip 50 stations a year of their licenses for insufficient attention to public service. And sunset all broadcast licenses after 15 or 20 years, making them all unrenewable. If the airwaves are in any way public, they ought to be open to far more of the public.
By Marc Fisher |
April 17, 2006; 7:38 AM ET
Previous: The Day the Oldies Died | Next: From High Atop the Hay-Adams Hotel, the Glories of Washington
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Ted Atkinson | April 17, 2006 8:51 AM
Posted by: Anonomizer | April 17, 2006 8:56 AM
Posted by: capeman | April 17, 2006 9:17 AM
Posted by: Mark Esposito | April 17, 2006 9:46 AM
Posted by: OD | April 17, 2006 9:53 AM
Posted by: Burke | April 17, 2006 9:56 AM
Posted by: bamagirlinVA | April 17, 2006 10:02 AM
Posted by: DC | April 17, 2006 10:12 AM
Posted by: Nick | April 17, 2006 10:38 AM
Posted by: Joe Postie | April 17, 2006 10:44 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2006 10:49 AM
Posted by: THS | April 17, 2006 10:54 AM
Posted by: KB Silver Spring | April 17, 2006 11:07 AM
Posted by: doesnt matter | April 17, 2006 11:30 AM
Posted by: Keith | April 17, 2006 11:31 AM
Posted by: OD | April 17, 2006 11:38 AM
Posted by: $#!+ @$$ | April 17, 2006 11:41 AM
Posted by: Tony V | April 17, 2006 11:50 AM
Posted by: #$@@@@$#$ | April 17, 2006 12:09 PM
Posted by: Jimmy from DC | April 17, 2006 12:30 PM
Posted by: Sticks and Stones | April 17, 2006 12:33 PM
Posted by: D. Johnson | April 17, 2006 12:46 PM
Posted by: Skip in DC | April 17, 2006 1:14 PM
Posted by: THS | April 17, 2006 1:24 PM
Posted by: Anon. | April 17, 2006 1:52 PM
Posted by: Craig | April 17, 2006 2:10 PM
Posted by: SteveG | April 17, 2006 2:46 PM
Posted by: MB | April 17, 2006 3:43 PM
Posted by: Glen | April 17, 2006 3:47 PM
Posted by: h3 | April 17, 2006 4:16 PM
Posted by: MikeFromDC | April 17, 2006 4:43 PM
Posted by: KMP | April 17, 2006 4:45 PM
Posted by: BCM | April 17, 2006 5:23 PM
Posted by: Fisher | April 17, 2006 9:59 PM
Posted by: SteveG | April 17, 2006 11:14 PM
Posted by: Joseph S. | April 18, 2006 1:32 AM
Posted by: Historian | April 18, 2006 9:17 AM
Posted by: cminus | April 18, 2006 12:31 PM
Posted by: h3 | April 19, 2006 11:09 AM
Posted by: Historian | April 19, 2006 11:17 AM
Posted by: cminus | April 19, 2006 12:33 PM
Posted by: viagra order | September 7, 2006 9:48 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.