Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Censorship on Broadcast Channels

The Supreme Court recently ruled in further policing the content on broadcast television, saying the the Federal Communications Commission has standards for indecency that are too vague. This essentially means that the FCC is being asked to place more specific restrictions on TV’s content. Network television stations are only fined after something is deemed indecent. They do not need to be further censored and deciding what should be censored after the fact is unfair. Also, censoring network television at all isn’t needed.

In this day and age, when free expression is so valued and uncensored content is so readily available, a move like this seems counterproductive.  An instance known as a fleeting expletive or a fleeting image has happened many times in recent history.  This excuses accidental indecent material on live television. The exception no longer exist. Janet Jackson’s well-known “wardrobe malfunction” and cursing on live award shows will no longer be protected, even if accidental. Any nude scene, such the one in a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue, will now face harsher penalty.

It seems the Supreme Court wanted to protect the FCC from allowing indecent content accidentally. The vagueness of the rules for indecency was beneficial to creative teams.  In controversial network shows like FOX’s Family Guy, there was some liberation in not knowing exactly what was off limits.The writers are able to test boundaries. It’s going to be difficult for that to continue. For shows that are groundbreaking, innovative, and deemed by some to be inappropriate, vague standards helped them thrive on testing limits.

Culture norms change with time. What people considered indecent over 50 years ago would seem absurd now. On I Love Lucy, the word “pregnant “was not allowed to be said. Shows of that time could not show married couples in bed together. Even though it was indecent at the time, indecency is a part of life. Art imitates life. The fact that cultural norms are fluid makes further censorship seem unnecessary. The perceptions of indecency on television will change with the times. Viewers are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what is distasteful. Given this, it is not right for anyone to police television.

The standards that dictate what is indecent already seem arbitrary. Regardless of context, there are certain words that cannot be said on television. George Carlin made it perfectly clear that he found this absurd back in 1978 with a profanity-laced routine entitled “The Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On Television.” Carlin was right on the money. Even so, he was arrested for disturbing the peace after a performance of the routine. A radio station was sued for broadcasting it in the middle of the day. The only reason for this was that a member of an organization called Morality in Media felt that it was inappropriate for his son to hear. This was unreasonable, considering that he could have simply changed the radio station.

The routine was not an excuse to “get away with” whatever popped into his head, but was merely a commentary urging the importance of free expression. In this case, too much censorship could be infringing on freedom of expression. For this reason, more specific standards of indecency will not be a good thing.  Media changes. Boundaries change. Culture changes. When time moves forward, what was once taboo becomes acceptable. With a supreme court decision like this, it’s harder for time to move forward and for norms to change.

The FCC is trying to protect viewers who are perfectly capable of controlling what is allowed to be seen in their homes. It is better to let viewers make their own decisions about what is or is not inappropriate. Indecency can easily be avoided by just not watching it. Those who want to watch more questionable material should feel free to watch it. They do not need to be protected. The current judgments of indecency are vague and unnecessary. There is no need to make it worse. Further censorship is certainly going to blur the lines even more.

The FCC’s regulations are not “too vague.” In fact, they are probably not vague enough. Television production teams should have the right to express themselves without being policed.  The public already has the ability to limit exposure themselves. Parents can always set up a V-chip to protect their kids from inappropriate television. Any individual is allowed to be displeased with televised content, but any other person equal has a right to enjoy that same content. Censoring  network television is questionable as it is because America prides itself on free speech.  There is so much more programing besides network television. Limiting the rules to censoring network television is not needed when so much more content is not subject to the standards of the FCC.  Network television does not need to be subjected to the FCC. The networks certainly don’t need to be subject to harsher standards. The crux of the issue is very simple: if someone sees something  on TV that they consider to be distasteful, they can simply turn it off. If the networks don’t get ratings and lose ratings due to something being too raunchy or obscene, they will not air programming like it and will censor themselves. There is no need for the FCC to be arbitrary and harsh in setting boundaries of appropriateness.

Posted on June 29, 2012, in FCC, Network Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. i was watching a movie that was full of horrible grusome blood and gore, 3pm on sat afternoon…we are used to it…it was a british movie. i know they have a sensible notion about censorship. a woman gets up out of bed in a scene after horrible violence and he is naked walking away from cam,we blurr her buttocks…now this is a form of insanity i have no word for. we can see a guy tear off a head etc..extreme violence. but his/her god given butt is obscene…who are the nut cases making these decisions..it is more offensive than the violence??? what on earth could be wrong with this womans or some guys butt..it isn’t even differant between the sexes…dear god we are hypocrites….

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