Most families believe that harsh profanity airing on the publicly owned airwaves is indecent. Congress has repeatedly agreed.
Soon the Supreme Court will review the FCC’s ruling that Fox violated the broadcast indecency law when it aired the “F-word” and “S-word” in front of millions of children during live broadcasts of two Billboard Music Awards shows.
Regardless of the Supreme Court outcome, Congress must renew its commitment to protecting children from indecent material on the public airwaves by passing S. 1780. Without this bill, Congress’s action two years ago to increase indecency fines is essentially meaningless.
At the heart of this case is whether so-called “fleeting” profanity is indecent and whether broadcasters that air this egregious content should be held accountable. But profanity by its very nature is “fleeting.” Ask a parent how many “fleeting” F-bombs they believe are acceptable for their children to hear on TV in a day, and that number is zero.
If broadcasters wanted to, they could remedy most undesired airings of profanity by implementing a simple five-second delay; but they feel no urgency to do so.
Let’s be real here: The broadcasters’ sole desire is to eliminate the law, not abide by it. They believe they have a “right” to air unedited profanity at any time of day, even in front of children. The “parental controls” they champion would not have prevented either of the two broadcasts at issue from reaching children, nor would it have blocked other recent airings of the “F-word” and “C-word.”
A decision to overturn the decency law would defy overwhelming public sentiment, not to mention clear congressional intent and Court precedent. It would eliminate the public’s right to object to a broadcast licensee’s use of the airwaves if community decency standards were violated. It would allow broadcasters the unfettered ability not just to cross the line, but to erase the line entirely. Families could do nothing to stop it.
Despite the proliferation of various forms of media over the past few decades, broadcasting is just as pervasive today as it was at the time of the Supreme Court’s 1978 Pacifica decision, which held that the FCC had power to regulate the broadcast airwaves for indecent content that violated community standards.
Broadcasters are only given a license to use the airwaves in the public interest. We have a reasonable and time-honored expectation that the airwaves will benefit, not hurt, the public.
Congress, please protect the public and the airwaves that we, not the broadcasters, own.