[lg policy] linguistic hygiene, cont'd: Does the FCC need to be reigned [sic] in?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 16 14:00:51 UTC 2010

Does the FCC need to be reigned in?
  11:59 AM Thu, Jul 15, 2010 | Permalink
Nicole Stockdale/ Editor

Every week, we poll the members of the editorial board on a timely and
divisive topic. This week, the question is:

 A federal appeals court dealt a blow to the FCC this week, saying the
agency's rules on indecency are too vague and violate the First
Amendment. Do you agree?

Here are their responses:

Sharon Grigsby, Deputy editorial page editor:

 Yes, it's not fair and it doesn't work. The FCC seemingly enforces
its vulgar language policy in different ways, depending on who knows
what -- its vagueness, and thus the capriciousness with which it is
applied, makes it pretty worthless in my mind. Additionally, I think
the vulgar language policy does violate the First Amendment. In 2010,
the idea that broadcast is "uniquely pervasive" and thus deserving of
being singled out for regulation is pretty comical.

Adults can make their own decisions on what they will and won't watch.
And they can make those decisions for their children. As Bill McKenzie
pointed out in our discussion yesterday, the challenge that not even
careful adults have figured out an answer for is how to deal with the
inappropriate commercials that air during programs, for instance a
baseball game, that are suitable for children. I don't have an answer
for that -- it's made for many unfortunate moments at our house too.

Mike Hashimoto, Assistant editorial page editor:

The appeals court panel is correct. The FCC's "rules" are like setting
a freeway speed limit of "going too fast is against the law."

"What's too fast?" you ask.

"We'll let you know when you do," the FCC says.

Short of being able to specify clear rules that a responsible
over-the-air broadcaster can know to follow (70 mph here, 30 mph
there), wouldn't it make more sense to let the public tell networks
what's acceptable? If enough people make clear, through consumer
behavior, what's acceptable, networks would be foolish to further
alienate the masses. If CBS shows too much nudity or profanity at
times non-adults can watch, CBS should suffer the audience decline
when parents protest first, then block CBS from their family's

And if the masses continue their migration to non-broadcast viewing
options, no set of rules is going to change that. No one should expect
government rules to substitute for responsible parenting.

Nicole Stockdale, Assistant editorial page editor:

I agree with the appeals court. The First Amendment dictates that
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech," yet the FCC has been allowed to do this -- quite arbitrarily,
I'd add -- at the government's behest for too long.

Perhaps the FCC's rules made more sense when broadcast television had
a more pervasive effect on culture. But, today, it doesn't make sense
to single out the networks when there are no similar dictates on cable
TV, newspapers, books, magazines, CDs, etc.

Jim Mitchell, Editorial writer:

Best I can tell there are different legal standards for obscene,
indecent and profane broadcasts all of which are open to
interpretation, as well as the evolving (or some might say devolving)
levels of tolerance in society. That why none of this will ever truly
be settled law.

All that said, the court is right -- the standard is vague especially
on fleeting expletives. But that should not preclude good faith
efforts to devise a standard. These are public airwaves and
broadcasters and performers have an obligation to respect that they
are speaking to a very wide audience of very wide tastes. I think the
FCC should continue to set some guidelines and expect the legal



Colleen McCain Nelson, Editorial writer:

Yes. It's tough to justify such vague and subjective rules. While I
don't think that we're quite ready to just say anything goes and let
the viewer decide (even though, in fact, anything goes on cable
channels), I think that the FCC would be more effective if it laid out
a few very clear parameters for what's prohibited on broadcast
networks. Then, TV executives would not be forced to guess what may or
may not offend on a given day. I don't think that the 'we'll know it
when we see it' standards for indecency have served anyone well.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal,
and to write directly to the original sender of any offensive message.
 A copy of this may be forwarded to this list as well.  (H. Schiffman,

For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list