The FCC's power to regulate television goes back to the early days of radio, when spectrum space was a limited resource. Since very few broadcasters would enjoy the immense power of the airwaves, Congress decreed in the Radio Act of 1927 that licensees would have to agree to broadcast in the "public interest, convenience and necessity." The Federal Communications Commission regulates the licensees.
Today, in a world of cable and satellite, with hundreds of channels, the licensee model -- based on the premise of scarcity -- has largely become obsolete. Cable television channels broadcast whatever they please. But 33 percent of homes are still without cable. To get down to first principles, the First Amendment was meant, first and foremost, to protect political speech. By no stretch of the imagination can use of the f-word be said to represent a core American value.
Some protest that it's "just a word." Are they denying the power of words? There used to be something called "polite society." Refined and courteous people policed their language so as not to give offense. Such a simple, quaint idea. Just the other day, my children and I were bombarded, as we waited at a traffic light, by someone in a jeep who insisted upon blasting his vulgar music to the world. Maybe it was Bono's music. I wouldn't know. Even if the driver had been blasting Mozart, he would have been stepping on our toes. But the obscenity compounded the offense.
Courtesy, consideration, self-control. Memo to FCC: They make life more civilized.