Written By: Adam Alb (Third Year Law School Student at Liberty University School of Law)
The quest for decency in media is being undermined by a supposed ally in that quest, the Federal Communications Commission. One year away from the latest of two Supreme Court decisions in its favor, both styled FCC v. Fox, (“Fox I” in 2009 & “Fox II” in 2012), the public is still waiting for the FCC to begin to enforce decency standards. And rather than do so, the FCC is now seeking to let the will of the networks govern on decency enforcement.
Despite Supreme Court victories, upholding the FCC’s right to enforce decency rules on Broadcast TV & radio, as well as the current FCC standard to do so, the FCC proposed a new standard of enforcement to allow isolated incidents of nudity and profanity during daytime hours, where kids are the audience. The FCC encouraged the public to share their comments regarding this proposed policy, and the response speaks for itself. All but a handful of more than 100,000 comments by citizens condemned it.
Americans are fearful of what may happen if this proposal takes place. In his comment, Randy Sharp, of the American Family Association, wrote, “The FCC’s allowing for expletives and nudity will only encourage the networks to incorporate more of it into programming.”
It is clear what the American public wants: protection for themselves and their children against nudity and foul language on daytime broadcast TV. Says one American, Craig Joyner, in his comment, “People that have no moral compass for decency can purchase this type of programming for private use. Too many want the liberty to dirty my liberties. We the public need the choice to pick and choose our programming, and when that choice is not technologically available the programming should at the very least be free of expletives and nudity.” George Skyles adds, “Broadcast TV needs to be cleaned up, not made dirtier. I hardly watch it now, and I’ll watch it less if the loose standards already in effect are virtually abandoned. I have two great-grandsons, and Broadcast TV is already out of bounds for them.”
The television networks filed comments as well but all are out of step with the American public. CBS said that speech would be chilled, and that the public would be “deprived” of “valuable” programming, “by imposing severe fines for fleeting expletives or brief images of nudity,” since the broadcasters would be discouraged from airing certain events. Clearly, Americans do not look at FCC protection for themselves and their children as being “deprived” of “valuable” nudity or crude language.
Network comments highlighted the importance of the V-chip for controlling TV indecency but that is a tired argument that carried no sway with the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy in Fox II said, “(Y)ou ask your 15-year-old, or your 10-year-old, how to turn off the chip. They’re the only ones that know how to do it.”
Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said “the right to be left alone” is “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” Americans indeed have a right to be left alone in their home. However, if they turn on their television and are subject to unwanted nudity and foul language, this right is violated. The homeowner, not the networks, should decide what is appropriate in their home. This principal is strongly supported by the public, as nearly all of the 100,000 comments to the proposed FCC regulation demonstrate. This is in addition to the reported 1.5 million complaints to the FCC, from American people, about the indecency they already found on TV in the past few years.
Decency is important because it can be an expression of honor and respect for another. It can promote self-worth, guard against provocation towards violence, and protects the morals and values parents try to instill in their kids. Broadcast TV should not be for indecent programming, which can be found on Cable and Satellite TV, for those who crave it. Instead, it should be a safe outlet, a venue of worry-free entertainment for children and adults alike. The FCC needs to embrace its role as guardian of the right to decency, and not cater to the constantly changing opinions of the TV networks. The integrity of broadcast TV depends on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
This fall Adam will be entering his final year of Law School at Liberty University School of Law. He currently plans to take the Arizona Bar next summer and is considering joining the Air Force JAG program upon graduation.