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All four of the major broadcast TV networks – ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC – filed statements last week with the Federal Communication Commission seeking an end to government oversight of indecency standards on television, according to a Dateline New York report.
The broadcasters want to be able to show just as much sex, violence and obscenity as the cable networks, and they don’t want it limited to after 10 p.m. ET.
The networks argued that the regulations violate their First Amendment rights and that the rules are archaic because families don’t just sit down and watch broadcast television anymore.
The Los Angeles Times reported Fox, for example, argued that the FCC’s rules are “stuck in a bygone era” and unfair to broadcasters because cable and online outlets do not face the same regulations.
“The FCC should affirm that it has no right to deny broadcasters the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by every other medium of communication,” Fox said.
Parents Television Council President Tim Winter, however, opposes eliminating decency standards.
“Fox has the audacity to argue that the entire broadcast indecency law should be abolished,” Winter said in a statement. “This is brought to you by the network that has aired scripted animated programs featuring a man masturbating a horse, a character eating excrement out of a baby’s diaper, and a baby eating a bowl of semen, just to name a few.
“Ask just about anyone who doesn’t get compensated by the broadcast networks, and they’ll tell you that these scenes are patently offensive,” he continued. “Yet Fox wants the unfettered right to air this kind of content – or worse – at any time of day, even in front of children.”
CBS, however, assured the FCC it needn’t worry that relaxing its enforcement will make “broadcast television some sort of red-light district.”
Besides, the network added, “The day when a child watching television was almost certain to be watching broadcast television has long since passed.”
According to Dateline, Fox elaborated on CBS’ argument: “Americans today, including children, spend more time engaged with non-broadcast channels delivered by cable and satellite television, the Internet, video games and other media than they do with broadcast media.”
NBC agreed: “Broadcast TV is not a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of 21st century Americans.”
James Joyner, writing in favor of the idea for Outside the Beltway, commented, “The rules made sense 30, even 20 years ago. Back then, cable television was essentially a platform for showing re-runs from the networks, live sports and theatrical movies. … Nowadays, the distinction between ‘broadcast’ and ‘cable’ or ‘satellite’ is largely irrelevant.”
Joyner added that because of DVRs, which easily enable viewers to record programs for viewing later, “Any show that airs after 9 p.m. is getting watched later in the week at an earlier hour, anyway, so the ‘family time’ concept is irrelevant.
“Presumably, there are still families that sit around the living room in the evening watching television together,” he added, “[but] if parents aren’t parenting, it really doesn’t matter given that most homes are connected to cable or satellite and children who want to watch ‘naughty’ programming can easily find it.
“There’s a market for family-friendly television,” he concluded. “Most of what’s on television, in fact, conforms to that standard, at least if we don’t hold to 1950s notions of acceptable language and sexual depiction.”
The network filings came in response to an April request from the FCC – since expired – for comments on a proposed change in policy to allow “fleeting” or “isolated” instances of nudity and cursing on public airwaves without subjecting the networks to fines.
Several news outlets reported more than 101,000 consumer comments poured in, while the networks filed just under the deadline, asking the FCC to go even further in abolishing all decency standards.
Yet Winter and the Parents Television Council argues the FCC must heed the people.
“The outpouring of the American people to the FCC is tremendous on the issue of broadcast indecency. The over 101,000 comments received over this FCC proposal dwarfs the number of people communicating to the FCC about any other matter,” Winter said. “The American people (those without armies of lobbyists) are concerned about the volume of indecent material on TV that is targeting their children and grandchildren. The FCC and Congress must not ignore their voices.”