FCC nominee hints at light enforcement of TV indecency

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He explained that former FCC Chairman Newton Minow "caught the public's attention" when he called television a "vast wasteland" in 1961, but he did not push for tougher regulatory enforcement.

"Maybe it's possible to do the same kind of thing today and say 'Can't we do better?'" Wheeler said. 

"I like your optimism at least," Sen Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. "I'm not sure I share it."

In April, the FCC issued a request for public comment on a proposal that would focus on penalizing only "egregious" indecency cases. The proposal would ban "deliberate and repetitive use [of expletives] in a patently offensive manner."

The plan would be a shift away from the agency's past policy, adopted during the Bush administration, of penalizing even "fleeting expletives."

The "fleeting expletives" standard resulted in years of legal battles over curse words uttered during live awards shows and sporting events.

Wheeler also hinted that he would be open to scrapping the FCC's sports blackout rule. He said that due to changes in technology, the rule is "ripe for commission decision," but he declined to explicitly state a position because the FCC is still reviewing the issue.

The blackout rule, first adopted in 1975, prohibits cable and satellite providers from carrying a sports event if the game is blacked out on local broadcast television stations.

Dropping the rule would have the most effect on the National Football League, which requires broadcasters to black out games if the local team does not sell out the stadium. The rule is meant to encourage fans to buy tickets to see the game live.