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Nudity, profanity and broadcast TV: The future hangs in the balance right now

Published: Sunday, April 14 2013 7:45 p.m. MDT

The FCC wants to relax the way decency standards are enforced with regards to broadcast TV. However, groups like the Parents Television Council and American Family Association are urging citizens to file comments against the proposed changes.

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Though the media seems not to have noticed, the Federal Communications Commission informed the American people on April 1 that it would like to ease up on enforcing existing decency standards for broadcast television and radio by only punishing the “deliberate and repetitive use” of profanity and nudity.

Advocacy groups like the Parents Television Council and American Family Association immediately and strongly denounced the FCC’s proposal, pointing out that such an enforcement mechanism would allow even the most offensive words in the English language to be uttered on broadcast TV without repercussion. Now, less than two weeks removed from the FCC’s announcement, more than 50,000 Americans have already filed comments with the commission about the proposed changes to decency enforcement on the public airwaves.

It remains unclear who will ultimately decide what the FCC policy should be and when that decision will be made. Be that as it may, the future of broadcast television may well be hanging in the balance right now.

Stakes run high

Parents Television Council Director of Public Policy Dan Isett projects no ambivalence in assessing the consequences of the FCC’s preferred course of action.

“What the FCC is talking about doing is to allow broadcast television to become essentially like the types of content that you see on cable and premium cable,” Isett said. “That is to say, there would be no safe harbor for families — even on the airwaves that they own.”

Bryan Fischer, the conservative radio host and director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, employed blunt imagery in forecasting an ostensibly bleak future for broadcast TV.

“I think for the average family in America, if somebody was routinely coming into their living room and dumping garbage on the floor, they would want it to stop,” Fischer said. “And if the FCC relaxes this rule, it will simply give permission to the networks to dump even more trash into American living rooms.”

Per federal policy, the commission’s public notice of April 1 opened a 30-day period for public comment. Both the Parents Television Council and American Family Association urged concerned citizens to file an official comment with the FCC. By last Thursday afternoon the number of comments stood at 56,074, a figure that will surely grow when the FCC updates the tally in the days ahead.

“The last time I looked,” Isett said, “there were more than 56,000 public comments already filed, and I have yet to find one that says, ‘Please give us more indecency.’ There may be one in there somewhere, but I haven’t seen it.”

Despite the unequivocal language of Isett and Fischer, and the concern voiced by tens of thousands of Americans, the mainstream media has remained silent about the FCC’s desire to relax the way decency standards are enforced. In fact, the closest thing to “mainstream media coverage” to show up on the Internet regarding these developments is a brief mention in a technology blog post on the Politico website.

“As of yesterday afternoon, the commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System contained 56,074 comments on the issue,” Alex Byers wrote Friday for Politico. “Most of them come from regular citizens like Darla Hulse of Pocatello, Idaho, who told the commission: ‘People who want that filth can find it on their own. You don't have to cater to them. Let the rest of us have a vote on keeping decency! Please.’”

Genesis of a controversy

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