Lois M. Collins: Let FCC keep some power over vulgar television

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

I woke up this morning and realized I'm no longer becoming my mother. I've arrived. I want the Federal Communications Commission to continue to regulate the use of profanity and nudity on network television during prime-time and any other hours when children are very likely to be tuned in.

In my college days, I'd have opposed that vehemently on the theory that the market can take care of itself, and we can all vote with our channel changers. That's still true; we can. But in my college days, no one was using the synonym for a donkey or a primate's hind-end every six words. References to genitalia never entered the televised conversation. And 12-year-olds weren't depicted routinely as seductive. Though there were sexual references, they were at least somewhat veiled. They weren't the only storyline in show after show.

Yeah, it turns out that on this topic, I'm a prude. I don't feel particularly apologetic about it.

The problem, to me, is one of the slippery slope. And by my reckoning, we're already about a third of the way down the mountain, traveling pretty fast. My fear is what we'll find if we ever hit bottom.

The question currently before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether a 1978 decision that upheld the commission's right to regulate what goes out over the airwaves in terms of obscenity should be overturned.

The Obama administration is butting heads with network execs on the issue, according to Associated Press.

Part of the problem, the networks say, is the rules are hard to figure out and are inconsistently applied. They're probably right. The FCC didn't object to or punish ABC for airing "Saving Private Ryan," which was peppered with expletives. But it did levy penalties for basically the same words uttered on award shows that were broadcast live.

There's also the perception by some that it's unfair to rein in networks, while allowing cable and satellite shows to pretty much say and show what they want.

The federal government counters that broadcast programming is the biggest slice of the broadcast pie and it should be kept as a "safe haven" that parents don't have to patrol and fret over.

AP quoted Carter Phillips, a network representative, who assured the court that "little would change because broadcasters would remain sensitive to advertisers and viewers who don't want the airwaves filled with dirty words and nudity."

I've never quite gotten the power of the argument that if you allow someone to change, they won't, so don't worry about it. Pinky promise. Why fight for change you will not implement? And the networks have, frankly, shown an extreme willingness to push the envelope with some very crude programming.

I understand the frustration of networks that face huge fines because some celebrity has decided to let fly obscenity. Maybe they should put in celebrity contracts a liability clause: If a fine results because of you, you'll pay for it.

Or they could vote with their own feet, as they so often tell the viewing public to do, and simply not provide work again to one who does that. That would likely simplify the potty-mouth training process.

If I choose to view or hear the words or images that aren't allowed, I can seek them out from other sources. There's no shortage of suppliers. What I can't do is monitor every second of every show my children might encounter — and un-ring the bell when something unsavory peals forth.

Vulgarity and obscenity seem to travel well with the rudeness and meanness and self-centeredness that are becoming a national trend.

I'd just as soon we take a different road.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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