Oh $%^&: FCC Tries Again to Clean Up Indecency Act

FCC Tries Again to Clean Up

Commission angles to limit probes to only ‘egregious’ cases

Just as he is about to exit, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is setting up a question that will be left to his successor: Just how should the agency deal with a backlog of indecency complaints.

(From the pages of the April 9 issue of Variety.)

Given the propensity for watchdog groups to complain that the agency is too lax, and broadcasters to sue the FCC for being too vague, it’s doubtful that any new policy will be anything other than a can of worms.

On April 1, the agency opened the docket on whether to adopt a policy where it investigates only “egregious” cases of indecency, a seeming change from a policy adopted in 2004 that sanctioned even “fleeting” swear words as well as nudity. The problem with the latter is that the networks found little rhyme or reason to the rulings, and twice challenged the the agency at the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the decisions or to strip the FCC’s authority to police content on the airwaves altogether.

But the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike the FCC’s rulings against the networks for airing such incidents as Cher (pictured above) and Nicole Richie’s (pictured below) f-bombs was narrow, and left the door open to the agency acting on complaints over such unexpected utterances. Genachowski has seemed to have little appetite to make indecency enforcement a priority, at least compared to his predecessor. But last September, faced with a huge backlog of complaints that lingered as litigation dragged on, he did direct the agency’s enforcement bureau to focus only on “egregious” cases, with many complaints dismissed, often because the statute of limitations had run out. According to the FCC, the backlog has been reduced by 70%, from 1.48 million complaints as of Sept. 21 to 465,544 as of Feb. 25.

Broadcasters’ main argument has been that the crackdown on “fleeting” expletives and “fleeting” nudity is arbitrary, and in the D.C. legal community there still is some skepticism that a policy that focuses on “egregious” cases wouldn’t still be vague. It used to be that George Carlin’s utterance of “seven dirty words” acted as a kind of roadmap for what was permissible.

The FCC is facing two vacancies, and the opening of public comment on a new indecency policy is likely to only increase the pressure from parents orgs and politicians for President Obama’s nominees to commit to a zealous approach to objectionable content. A few of the comments to the FCC so far amplify the stations’ standpoint, that the networks shouldn’t be singled out, since so many media options proliferate. After all, think of all the options that didn’t exist when Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl, a case that finally found resolution eight years later. By then, some young viewers were adults.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 5

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Artiewhitefox says:

    To call the nude human body, sex or sexual art or nude art in pictures or animated as being indecent is to only call what people make as being decent. That is stupid, but that is what stiff necked people have done since the beginning of time. People have to get smart.

  2. Artiewhitefox says:

    To call the nude human body sex or sexual art indecent is to only call what people make as being decent. That is stupid, but that is what stiff necked people have done since the beginning of time. People have to get smart.

  3. scott j says:

    This is so fucking awesome and i think the fcc is doing a great thing!

  4. Gary ciuffetelli says:

    Hopefully this proposed rule change could help bring the networks back to relevance. I stopped watching network television years ago after the FCC began leveling large fines for so called indecency. Most programming now is geared toward 12 years which doesn’t interest me in the least.
    A show like NYPD Blue could never air in today’s regulatory climate. Until that changes, I’ll stick to cable.

  5. Rick Vogel says:

    While the FCC continues to provide vague descriptions of what they can punish, the elephant (not just a gorilla) in the room is the chilling effect caused by the potential $325,000 fine per indecent moment. This ten-fold increase from the past raises fears that any mistake could cause economic devastation. The descriptor du jour of “egregious” will provide little comfort when the economic stakes are so high.

More TV News from Variety