MIM and others challenge FCC Enforcement Bureau order ‘defining indecency down’

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NEW YORK (7 December 2003) — Morality in Media, joined by seven other pro-decency organizations, filedComments on December 4 with the Federal Communications Commission in support of an Application for Review (filed by the Parents Television Council) of an Memorandum and Order issued by the Commission’sEnforcement Bureau that, in effect, “extend[s] a broad invitation to broadcasters to fill the public airwaves with dirty words.”

The Enforcement Bureau issued a Memorandum and Order (Order) on October 3, 2003, which concluded that NBC TV affiliates did not violate the broadcast indecency law (18 USC 1464) by airing the word “f-k-g” during a live telecast of the “Golden Globes Awards” program.

The Bureau stated, in part, “[T]he performer used the word ‘f-k-g’ as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation. Indeed, in similar circumstances, we have found that offensive language used as an insult rather than as a description of sexual or excretory activity or organs is not within the scope of the Commission’s prohibition of indecent program content.”

The Comments noted that the Bureau’s determination is not only a “radical departure” from the Supreme Court’s landmark 1978 FCC v. Pacifica decision [which upheld the federal broadcast indecency law], but “is also a departure from common sense.” “If our reading of the [Bureau’s] Order is correct,” the Comments continued, “it would appear that the Pacifica decision has for all practical purposes been ‘overruled’ …Applying the Pacifica Court’s understanding of ‘indecent,’ a single use of the f-word as an ‘adjective’ or ‘expletive’ or ‘insult’ can be indecent—depending on the ‘context.'”

“One would think that in applying contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, the FCC would take into consideration the many opinion polls indicating that large majorities of the American people are concerned about and offended by TV sex and vulgarity. One would think that the FCC would be mindful of the growing body of evidence that children are adversely affected by the vulgarity and sex they hear and view on broadcast TV … But if the Bureau were doing what ‘one would think,’ how do we explain why … the FCC has never fined a broadcast TV network affiliate for airing indecent programming that was provided by one of the networks,” the Comments said.

The Comments said, “Instead of taking steps to reduce broadcast indecency, the Enforcement Bureau has once again defined indecency down and, in the process, extended a broad invitation to broadcasters to fill the public airwaves with dirty words….”

Morality in Media is a national nonprofit organization, headquartered in New York City, which works through constitutional means to uphold standards of decency in the mainstream media. Author: MIM   12/07/2003

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