MIM criticizes FCC Commissioner Furchtgott-Roths’ indecency statement, April 2001

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NEW YORK (10 April 2001) – Yesterday, Morality in Media President Robert W. Peters commented generally on the FCC Policy Statement regarding broadcast indecency enforcement. Today Mr. Peters had these comments on the separate statement of Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth, which advocated the elimination of the broadcast indecency prohibition:

“In his Separate Statement, Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth expresses the opinion that the broadcast indecency restriction should be eliminated and all but invites litigation to achieve that end.”In his view, the historic justifications for applying a ‘less restrictive standard of First Amendment scrutiny’ to the broadcast medium — i.e., ‘spectrum scarcity’ and the medium’s ‘dominance’ — no longer exist. Since the Supreme Court struck down indecency regulations in the cable TV and Internet media, the Court should also invalidate the broadcast indecency restriction, he reasons.

“It is safe to say, however, that when Congress first enacted the broadcast indecency law in 1927, it had neither ‘spectrum scarcity’ nor radio’s ‘dominance’ in mind. It rightly had in mind a medium that sent its signals indiscriminately into every home with a radio, including many with young children. It had in mind what former Chief Justice Earl Warren once described as the ‘right of the Nation and of the States to maintain a decent society.’

“Perhaps Congress also had in mind the difference between the expression of a viewpoint — no matter how offensive it might be — and the manner of expressing that viewpoint.

“Once upon a time, Justice Stevens understood the difference, when he wrote in the landmark broadcast indecency case, FCC v. Pacifica (1978):

‘A requirement that indecent language be avoided will have its primary effect on the form, rather than the content, of serious communication. There are few, if any, thoughts that cannot be expressed by the use of less offensive language.

“Perhaps Congress also had in mind the difference between the broadcast medium and, for example, a nightclub with an audience of consenting adults. Once upon a time, Justice Stevens understood the difference, when he wrote in Pacifica:

‘We have long recognized that each medium of expression presents special First Amendment problems…And of all the forms of communication, it is broadcasting that has received the most limited…protection…The reasons for these distinctions are complex, but two have relevance to the present case. First, the broadcast media have established a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of all Americans. Patently offensive, indecent material presented over the airwaves confronts the citizen…in the privacy of the home…[P]rior warnings cannot completely protect the listener…Second, broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children, even those too young to read…The Commission’s action does not…reduce adults to hearing only what is fit for children…Adults who feel the need may purchase tapes…or go to…nightclubs to hear these words.’

“It may be true that broadcasting is not nearly as ‘unique’ as it once was but it still penetrates virtually every home, car, and school playground in the nation; and far more children today have their own TV.”If Mr. Furchtgott-Roth’s viewpoint (and, apparently, that of Chairman Powell) becomes the law of the land, then broadcasters will have yet another Supreme Court created ‘constitutional right’ — this time to air programming during the ‘family hour’ (and every other hour) depicting hardcore sex acts, including graphic depictions of intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, group sex, defecation, urination, sadistic torture, etc., as long as the programming, when taken as a whole, has ‘serious artistic, literary, political or scientific value.’

“One hopes that Mr. Furchtgott-Roth’s successor will not simply view the FCC as an economic development authority. One hopes his successor will understand the ‘big picture.’ Indecent and obscene entertainment in our culture have real life and death consequences in our nation in the form of sexually transmitted diseases, unwed pregnancies, marriage and family breakup, and abortion. Congress surely aimed to exercise its duty to ‘maintain a decent society’ when it first prohibited obscene and indecent broadcasts in 1927.”

MORALITY IN MEDIA is a nonprofit national interfaith organization, with headquarters in New York City, working through constitutional means to curb traffic in obscenity and to uphold standards of decency in the mainstream media.


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