WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice this week announcing its decision to consider lessening its indecency standards to allow for explicatives that have formally been banned and occasional full frontal nudity.
The FCC’s official reason for rethinking its indecency standards is in order to comply with “vital First Amendment principles” established in recent Supreme Court cases. It is also seeking to further reduce a backlog of over 1 million complaints it has manage to pare down by 70 percent.
A reading of the proposed changes show that the FCC is considering allowing virtually any language as long as it is not “repetitive or used in a patently offensive manner” and frontal nudity as long as it is “isolated and not sexual in nature.”
The changes being considered come in the wake of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that said the agency’s rules on indecency are too vague and violate the First Amendment. With its decision, the three-judge panel handed a victory to broadcasters such as Fox and ABC, which had petitioned the court to challenge the agency’s practice of imposing steep fines for impromptu expletives and sexual content.
The appeals judges called the FCC’s policy, in place since 2004, “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.” Judges said that the vagueness left broadcasters uncertain about what they could air, which impinged on their freedom of speech.
Broadcasters say the effect of the court decision won’t change content on television. “It’s legally permissible for stations to air uncut R-rated movies after 10 p.m. — or to have Letterman and Leno dropping F-bombs,” said Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “But you never see or hear that material from broadcasters because of the relationships and expectations we’ve built with our audiences over decades.”
The Parents Television Council called the court decision a “slap in the face,” and Concerned Women for America, an advocacy group for indecency rules, urged the FCC to appeal, lest broadcast television be open to the sexually explicit content and language of cable programs such as “The Sopranos” and “True Blood.” It is obvious now that the agency does not plan to appeal.”
Changes being considered by the FCC leave room to doubt where broadcasters will go if left unfettered. Supposedly the purpose of the proposed changes is to remove ambiguity from the current standards so networks know what is and is not permitted. However, the changes under consideration do little to define either “repetitive” or “isolated.” More troubling to some is the fact that the proposed changes make no mention of the hours of broadcast television that are frequently watched by children.