Unfortunately, Mr. Powell chose not to recommend any fine whatsoever for NBC. If the FCC changes course only in public speeches, but in its policy still fails to enforce its existing standards -- as mandated by law -- then the troublemakers at NBC are quite right to question the FCC's seriousness. And why shouldn't they? In the entire history of the FCC, the agency hasn't fined a single TV station in the continental United States. And now NBC's allowed, even defended, the use of the F-word -- and nothing. Where's the threat?
The American people and their representatives in Congress are going to have to step up the pressure on Powell and Co. and keep it high. The policy is there to be enforced, and now the will must be put behind it. All five FCC commissioners know that the Supreme Court decision in FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation said obscenities are not allowed between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the broadcast networks. All they have to do is have the fortitude to enforce that policy.
Even when Powell changed course, he still sounded tentative, as if he's being pushed from behind by Congress or by Republican strategists looking for small gestures to gratify socially conservative voters in an election year.
At the National Press Club, he was making sense by declaring "sometimes, what defines a culture or civilization is where it says 'no.'" That's absolutely right. He then added all the tentative dance steps: "I think in a free ... First Amendment democracy, it's healthy that that debate never ends. It never ends what we accept as the important protections of speech and what are the limits of it. And I think that debate has not gone on in a while, and it's probably healthy that we have it again."
That sounds nice, but it's wrong. The health of our culture does not rest on the debate but on the winner of the debate. The health of our culture depends on the strength and the passion of the resistance to Hollywood's culture-rotting reflexes. Hollywood's a spoiled child. It needs a severe scolding. Give this industry an inch of the notion that free speech protects cursing over the public airwaves, and they will take a mile. On the other hand, give this child a good mouthful of soap, and the potty language will stop.
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