Kristen Fyfe

The TV networks are acting like a bunch of spoiled two-year-olds.  They do NOT like broadcast decency regulations.  They do NOT like the fact that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has become more serious about enforcing decency standards. And they are throwing corporate temper tantrums.

The toddlers running Fox are refusing to pay a $91,000 fine imposed on them by the FCC for a 2003 episode of the reality show Married by America which included images of contestants licking whipped cream off strippers, a man on all fours in his underwear being spanked by two strippers, and other people being lured into sexually compromising situations.  The FCC ruled that the images were sexually suggestive and indecent.  Fox says they were not “statutorily indecent but rather …integral to the storyline,” according to a report in Variety.

Keep in mind that $91,000 is chicken feed to Fox, probably less than the weekly catering tab.  Fox’s refusal to pay the fine is not about the money, but rather, as Variety reported, about “vigorously challenging FCC indecency rulings.”

NBC meanwhile is taking a tack more reminiscent of the toddler who has been told not to touch the hot stove but decides to put his hand as closetotheflameaspossible before getting burned.  Washington Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes reported that NBC’s popular comedy 30 Rock is planning an April 10 episode that will be all about the f-word. 

Moraes, who is no fan of broadcast decency regulation, wrote:

“…those innovators at NBC 2.0 have come up with what appears to be the practically perfect FCC-fine-proof sitcom episode, in which the bad word most favored by Hollywood celebrities is referenced repeatedly.

On the April 10 episode of 30 Rock, the staff of the late-night show "TGS" has become obsessed with a new reality hit called "MIL[letter that's been deemed too naughty for The Washington Post when it follows M, I and L] Island."

For the uninitiated: MIL[WaPo Scarlet Letter] stands for Mothers I'd Like to [have sex with].

In this episode of 30 Rock -- which NBC says also is titled "MIL[WaPo Banned Letter] Island" -- network bigwig Jack (Alec Baldwin) is watching the riveting finale of this reality-series hit, pitting the final two contestants, Debra vs. Deborah, when he is blindsided by a blind item in a newspaper gossip column. In it, a network staffer calls him a "Class A moron" and adds, "That guy can eat my poo."

Yes, it really says "poo" -- I have not been compelled to use "poo" by the WaPo Decency Police.

Anyway, Jack is mad as a wet hen about this gossip column item, because he's in the running for network chairman, based on the success of "MIL[WaPo Letter of Shame] Island." Hilarity ensues.

Hilarity?  If basing an entire episode around an indecent word is “hilarious” why stop with the f-word?  Why not throw in the n-word and some other ones too? Surely that would be even more hilarious.

NBC and Fox, along with the other broadcast networks, are in court suing for the “right” to broadcast obscene language at any time of day. Currently the law states that broadcasters, who use the public airwaves to transmit their programming, must abide by community standards of decency between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be in the viewing audience.  The FCC is the government agency tasked with enforcing the regulations.  There are certain words, like the f- and s-words that are considered to be patently offensive. Broadcast decency laws restrict those as well as images that depict sexual or excretory activities or organs.  

As it stands the Supreme Court is due to consider broadcast indecency in the 2008-2009 term.  The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year in Fox v. FCC that “fleeting” expletives should not be fined by the FCC.  The FCC appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which has not examined the indecency issue since it ruled in the Pacifica case in 1973. For more on the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the fleeting expletives case, click here.

Until the Supreme Court acts to clarify broadcast decency issues, it appears the networks are going to do everything in their power to thumb their collective noses at the FCC and in effect, the American public.  All in the name of “entertainment.”  Isn’t that hilarious?


Kristen Fyfe

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.

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