In an announcement that received little attention but could have a major impact on America's families, the FCC April 1 announced it is considering changes to the current broadcast indecency policies that would permit "isolated expletives" and isolated "non-sexual nudity" on broadcast TV, something that currently could draw a fine.
The FCC is asking for public feedback on the proposed policy. The deadline is the end of April.
Dan Isett, direct of public policy for the Parents Television Council, said the proposal -- if passed by the FCC's five commissioners -- would lead to dramatic changes on TV.
"Broadcast television would look like HBO -- more nudity, more language, more everything," Isett told Baptist Press.
In its three-page public notice April 1, the FCC said it is seeking public comment on whether the commission should treat "isolated expletives" as it did in a 1987 case -- in which an expletive had to be "deliberate" and "repetitive" to be considered a violation -- or as it did in a 2004 case in which the use of an expletive, even if isolated, could draw a fine.
On nudity, the FCC asked, "Should the Commission treat isolated (non-sexual) nudity the same as or differently than isolated expletives?"
Families have reason to be concerned. The FCC is considering the change at a time when the commission is lacking enforcement of broadcast standards, Isett said.
"There was enforcement under the last administration," he said of the Bush administration. "There has been zero under this one."
The outgoing FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, did not enforce indecency standards, Isett said. (Genachowski announced in March he was resigning.) The FCC commissioners are appointed by the president. No more than three can be of the same political party, meaning that under President Obama, three are Democrats and two are Republicans.
"It's going to be incumbent upon the president to nominate an FCC chairman that will prioritize this, that will enforce the law and will not ignore it just because they don't like the law -- which essentially is what the outgoing chairman has done," Isett said.
The U.S. Supreme Court considered a major indecency case last year and allowed the current policy to stand, although it did toss out the FCC's penalties against ABC and Fox -- but only because the court said the FCC had not given the networks proper notice of what was and was not allowed. At issue were broadcasts on Fox from 2002 and 2003 in which the "f-word" and "s-word" were said on live television and a scripted ABC broadcast from 2003 that included partial female nudity.
"The Commission failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent," the court's majority opinion stated.
The networks had wanted the court to overturn the policy, something it did not do.
In its April 1 public notice, the FCC said Genachowski had told the FCC's enforcement bureau to focus its "indecency enforcement resources on egregious cases" involving complaints against broadcast indecency, thus cleaning out a "backlog" of complaints. That could be a preview of what is to come.
"If the American people think that standards of decency mean something," Isett said, "that it's important to protect children at certain times of day on the airwaves that we own, then they must file a public comment, and it's really easy to do so on the FCC's website."
The public can comment on the proposal through the FCC's website, http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs//. (Click on "submit a filing.") The case is GN Docket No. 13-86.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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