/// FCC Moves to Clarify Broadcast Indecency Policy

April 1, 2013  |  Media Week

At long [insert expletive here] last, the Federal Communications Commission is doing something about the backlog of broadcast indecency complaints that have hounded the agency since the Supreme Court tossed the rules back to the agency last June. In what could be a prelude to a major change in broadcast indecency policy, the FCC is asking for public comment about whether it should focus only on egregious cases, the approach outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski favored when the high court ruled the FCC failed to give Fox and ABC fair notice prior to network broadcasts of fleeting expletives on Fox and brief nudity on ABC. Going all the way back to George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words (memorialized in a case known as Pacifica ), the FCC's notice asks whether or not it should change its indecency policy to treat “fleeting” or “isolated” cases of expletives and nudity differently than it treats cases where the uses are deliberate and repetitive. By focusing only on the egregious cases, the FCC said it reduced its backlog by 70 percent—from 10,000 cases and 1.48 million complaints soon after the June 2012 Supreme Court decision to 5,538 cases and 465,544 complaints in February 2013. Though the backlog shrank, the public notice will no doubt be controversial. It's sure to rile up conservative groups like the Parents Television Council that will not be satisfied with anything less than a strict moral code. Broadcasters, on the other hand, are likely to urge the agency to take a more liberal approach to “fleeting” incidents that they sometimes have little control over, such as Raven's Joe Flacco's use of the f-bomb following his team's Super Bowl win.


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