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READ COMMENTS ABOUT SUPREME INDECENCY CASE

1-11-2012

With so much content now available, in so many places, it makes you wonder why the Television networks waste their time and money trying to defend anything deemed indecent. Radio seems to have sworn off the over-the-top borderline indecent broadcasting when the FCC started cracking down with huge fines. Very few radio broadcasters these days go over that line for fear of getting a pink slip from the home office for doing so. Dealing with fines, watchdog groups transcribing every minute of every show and license renewal threats from the FCC are things radio companies seem to not want to deal with these days. And is having some sort of "safe harbor" where parents can be comfortable that pants will be worn and some self-absorbed actor isn't going to try to make news by dropping the F-Bomb 14 times really chilling free speech as lawyers would argue?

In an hour-long argument yesterday, the Supreme Court dealt with the governments policy on indecency. This case stems from celebrities-such as Cher and Nicole Richie-uttering swear words during live television in primetime and an episode of ABCs NYPD Blue that depicted partial nudity. The FCC said those incidents violated its prohibitions against the broadcast of indecent material before 10 pm and here were are at the Supreme Court looking for clarity.

Tim Winter, President of the Parents Television Council commented last night that TV networks "want the freedom to broadcast f-bombs and expose nudity without any restrictions.  A Court decision in their favor would open the doors for airing hardcore pornography at any time of day, even in the hours when our children are most likely to be watching." He went on to say that "an attorney for the networks suggested that since the use of the f-word is so common today everywhere! it no longer makes sense to restrict the use of that word on television."  Are you kidding me?  Does the attorney who made that argument greet his boss every morning by saying, How the (bleep) are you today?"

Justice Antonin Scalia, who authored the 2009 opinion that upheld the FCC's ban on fleeting indecency said he hasn't changed his position, "Sign me up as supporting Justice Kennedy's notion that this has a symbolic value, just as we require a certain modicum of dress for the people that attend this Court and the people that attend other Federal courts. It's a symbolic matter...These are public airwaves, the government is entitled to insist upon a certain modicum of decency. I'm not sure it even has to relate to juveniles, to tell you the truth."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wanted to know why it's appropriate that someone in the government gets to say that nudity in Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan is better than nudity on NYPD Blue. "I do think that is the major objection, that we have a government agency that is going to make decisions about when nudity is okay and when it isn't." Justice Elena Kagan added the way this policy seems to work, its like nobody can use dirty words or nudity except for Steven Spielberg.
 
Chief Justice John Roberts suggested the broadcast networks are a safe harbor for parents hoping to shield their children from indecency. What the government is asking for, is a few channels where you can say, Im not going to-they are not going to hear the S -word, the F -word.
 
Broadcasters want the Supreme Court to overturn the FCC v. Pacifica ruling. In 1973, a father complained to the FCC that his son had heard the George Carlin routine "Filthy Words" broadcast one afternoon over WBAI, a Pacifica Foundation FM radio station in New York City. Pacifica received censure from the FCC, in the form of a letter of reprimand, for allegedly violating FCC regulations which prohibited broadcasting indecent material. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC action in 1978, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was "indecent but not obscene". The Court accepted as compelling the government's interests in 1) shielding children from patently offensive material, and 2) ensuring that unwanted speech does not enter one's home. The Court stated that the FCC had the authority to prohibit such broadcasts during hours when children were likely to be among the audience, and gave the FCC broad leeway to determine what constituted indecency in different contexts.




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