In the past, we have witnessed many indecencies on television and radio. Most memorable is singer Janet Jackson flashing her breasts during a Super Bowl half-time performance in 2004, and most notable is singer-actress Cher and television personality Nicole Richie throwing obscenities (F-bombs) to the viewing audience during 2003’s Billboard Music Awards show which aired on the Fox network.
The Fox Television Stations’ legal challenge of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), which was recently in court, may have changed the way we view television and hear radio forever. Basically, Fox has won in the Fox vs. FCC ruling in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Tuesday – so far.
They have only won ‘so far’ because the Court agrees with the FCC that there should be limitations to what can and cannot be seen and heard on broadcast outlets. Yet, the Court has told the FCC the current rules and regulations are too vague to be followed by broadcasters. In other words, according to the Court, Fox should not have been punished for not following rules and regulations that are so difficult to understand and thereby nearly impossible to follow. Additionally, the Court finds that the implications of the FCC’s rules and regulations are more than just banning occasional expletives as were charged this time, and getting into the First Amendment rights – one’s Freedom of Speech.
The Supreme Court has had to intervene in cases like these in the past, and it will probably be used to settle this current controversy of what can and cannot be seen and heard through public broadcasts again. In the past, the Supreme Court has sided with the FCC. Yet, as the FCC has likely sensed before, after Tuesday’s ruling, the government Commission needs to come up with rules and regulations that are more palatable and understandable to the Courts who are expected to settle arguments over what should and shouldn’t be broadcast. Their terminology is simply too vague as it currently stands according to the Court.
Locally, in Chicago, obscenity use is a constantly-discussed and argued topic among broadcasters. Warnings and threats are openly aired during radio programming and have been for decades. As a matter of fact, history traces an obscenity case in Chicago print media, Dunlop vs. U.S., as far back as 1897. So the controversy over what is and isn’t appropriate for the public goes back over a century – and will probably be around more than a century from now.
About the FCC: According to the Federal Communications Commission’s website, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency. It was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is in charge of regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. Its jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all United States possessions.
Additionally, the FCC is directed by five Commissioners appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. The Commissioners serve five-year terms. The President decides who will be the Chairperson, and only three commissioners may be of the same political party.
Sources: CBS-Radio Network News/Variety