Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided FCC v. Fox Television Stations Inc. in September, the Federal Communications Commission says it has reduced its complaint backlog by 70 percent, an astounding 1 million beefs, largely by taking on only egregious cases and discarding complaints for other reasons including timeliness and pertinence. The federal broadcasting watchdog also has announced that it is investigating whether its indecency policies conform with the First Amendment.
The agency this week released a Public Notice seeking comments on how to approach “isolated expletives” (aka fleeting expletives). The FCC is seeking public comments on which approach it should adopt on these on-air no-nos: the Pacifica approach (requiring deliberative and repeated use of expletives in a patently offensive manner) or the FCC’s 2004 Memorandum Opinion and Order about the Golden Globe Awards (finding indecency for single use of expletive depicting or describing sexual activities). The agency also sought views on whether isolated, nonsexual nudity should be treated similarly to isolated expletives.
The FCC’s latest approach could be a boon for broadcasters as the agency seems to be reevaluating its policies and focusing on the worst cases. That may be because broadcasters have proven successful in recent indecency cases. Still, the agency’s moves drew immediate fire from parents’ groups and conservatives.
Judge for yourself if a single expletive should warrant a fine for broadcasters, as occurred when U2’s Bono accepted a Golden Globe award; his f-bomb eventually led to the aforementioned Memorandum Opinion and Order: