Blown To Bits

The FCC’s indecency standards

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 by Harry Lewis

Chapter 8 of Blown to Bits tells the tale of how the federal government got into the business of determining which parts of the female anatomy may be shown on broadcast television and for how long, and whether the occasional s-word or f-word may be spoken. It’s an important story, because it’s one of the few clear-cut instances of a sweeping override of the First Amendment by a government body. And that body, the Federal Communications Commission, keeps reaching farther. For example, it has proposed to grease the rails for companies willing to provide a free-to-the-public, fully censored parallel Internet universe over the airwaves, an Internet with a mechanism

That filters or blocks images and text that constitute obscenity or pornography and, in context, as measured by contemporary community standards and existing law,  any images or text that otherwise would be harmful to teens and adolescents.  For purposes of this rule, teens and adolescents are children 5 through 17 years of age.

You read that right: nothing unsuitable for a 5-year old could be said or shown over this network.

While I have no interest in the famous Janet Jackson halftime stunt (I love the Superbowl, but never watch the halftime shows), I am delighted that the FCC fine was thrown out by a federal court as being capricious and arbitrary. The court essentially ruled that the FCC had improperly raised its standards. The Technology Liberation Front has a good explanation of the decision and a link to the decision itself.

An even more important judicial deliberation will be happening in the coming Supreme Court term, when the entire issue of the FCC’s indecency standards will be under review.

In the meantime, isn’t it odd that the FCC is working so hard to make broadcast TV safer for children than it has ever been, just at the moment when from what I can tell, the advertisers think the only people watching network TV are those who need AARP, Viagra, and motorized wheelchairs?

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