NOVEMBER 08, 2006
Already under fire for not adequately punishing obscenity on the airwaves, the government agency responsible for regulating radio and television has decided that indecent language on television is sometimes okay.
The Federal Communications Commission has gone so far as to dismiss charges against two network television shows it had previously deemed indecent. One is a popular police drama in which characters regularly used profanity and the other a daytime news show with guests that repeatedly used foul language.
It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time or to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours. Since broadcasters constantly push these limits, Congress has given the FCC the responsibility for administering and enforcing these laws with fines, license revocations and warnings.
Instead, the agency has been criticized over the years for looking the other way as broadcasters repeatedly violate laws. In fact, the agency’s commissioner has said that the FCC is doing an indecent job of enforcing indecency and he has been critical of the agency in testimony to lawmakers. Commissioner Michael Copps told a Congressional Subcommittee on Telecommunications that instead of enforcing indecency laws, the commission rewards giant stations and the result is “more garbage, less real news and progressively crasser entertainment.”
The FCC claims that its enforcement actions are based on documented complaints received from the public. Supposedly, the agency’s staff reviews each complaint to determine whether it contains sufficient information to prove a violation of obscenity, indecency or profanity laws. If the staff determines that a violation has in fact occurred, the agency will continue investigating.
There is certainly no lack of well-documented complaints filed by various groups and individuals. Most of them get dismissed, however. In 2004, for instance, the FCC took action in only 12 cases out of hundreds of thousands of complaints.
Usually, it takes high-profile complaint like the 2004 Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco for the FCC to take action. When the pop star exposed her breast during the halftime show, the agency received more than 200,000 complaints so it had no choice but to fine the station as well as the National Football League.
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