Marketplace Scratch Pad

TV is safe for kids now

Scott Jagow Apr 28, 2009

Today, the Supreme Court upheld an FCC policy that allows the agency to assess huge fines on local and national broadcasts that air even a “fleeting expletive,” like Bono’s awards show f-bomb.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer asks, how does this apply to live coverage of local events?

What did the FCC say in response to this claim? What did it say about the likely impact of the new policy on the coverage that its new policy is most likely to affect, coverage of local live events–city council meetings, local sports events, community arts productions, and the like? It said nothing at all.

To which Justice Scalia responded in his opinion:

“We doubt, to begin with, that small-town broadcasters run a heightened risk of liability for indecent utterances. In programming that they originate, their down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big-city folks; and small-town stations generally cannot afford or cannot attract foul-mouthed glitteratae from Hollywood.”

Seriously, that paragraph comes from an actual Supreme Court opinion. I only wish George Carlin were still alive…

The President of Concerned Women for America, Wendy Wright, had this to say:

“Broadcasters have the ability to bleep out offensive and crude language, but networks refused to act responsibly. Today the Supreme Court recognized that the FCC has the right to step in to protect viewers, especially young viewers, from offensive material. This is a step in the right direction to once again make television a safe form of entertainment.”

Yes, we’re so close to television being a safe form of entertainment again because the FCC can fine CBS, NBC and Fox broadcasts of awards shows and Super Bowl halftimes. No matter that the FCC has no authority over internet TV, cable TV or satellite TV.

All this may be much ado about nothing because the Supreme Court hasn’t actually addressed yet the First Amendment issues of the policy, only whether the FCC had the authority and followed the proper procedure in implementing it.

In the meantime, I’d love to see a study on how many kids watch the Golden Globes versus how many watch Southpark.

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