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Burriss on Media: FCC & Indecency

So, after the latest Supreme Court ruling about indecency, broadcast stations can do anything they want, right? Wrong.

Last week the court issued a decision about Federal Communications Commission “indecency” rulings that go back nearly 10 years. It seems that in 2004 the FCC adopted new, more stringent rules regarding partial nudity and what has come to be known as “fleeting expletives.” Unfortunately, the Commission tried to apply these rules to programs that had aired a couple of years earlier. In essence the Commission gave itself the power to go back in time and decide that previously broadcast material was indecent, and thus subject to sanctions.

So what the court said was the Commission did not tell stations what they can and cannot do, and therefore the fines were disallowed. If, however, you’re still looking for the Commission to control some kinds of content, the justices practically told the commissioners to develop explicit and specific rules to regulate indecent material.

Unfortunately, unless the commission spells out every word and behavior, creating such rules will be nearly impossible. And if there’s one thing the Supreme Court doesn’t like it is ambiguity and confusion. So it is likely to be quite a while before we see any changes in broadcast programming.

And if you think this is an easy task, just ask a dozen of so of your friends exactly which specific behavior, scenes and words should or should not be allowed. Not generally, but specifically. I bet their opinions will be all over the lot. And none will satisfy anyone else.

Something else to remember here is that Congress has not given the FCC the power to regulate cable operations. So here in Middle Tennessee any new rules would only apply to only a few traditional “over-the-air” stations.

Now, the FCC must go back to work and somehow process more than 1-million complaints involving almost 10-thousand broadcasts going all the way back to 2003. It’s a task that will probably take years, and eventually probably satisfy no one.

I’m Larry Burriss