Sunday, April 06, 2008

Television networks want flexibility in FCC deceny rules

A major philosophical problem is developing among the Federal Communications Commissions rules that levy fines every time an indecent work or phrase is uttered on major network television.

Networks say that ultimately they cannot control the possibility that live contestants might, in isolated cases, use inappropriate words on the air. They maintain that decency standards must allow for a small amount of “human error.” Fox wants an appeals court (and the Supreme Court later if necessary) to allow for the possibility of inadvertent lapses, such as what happened in the 2004 half-time Super Bowl program with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.

The major case is Fox Television Networks v. FCC, where Cher and Nicole Richie apparently used inappropriate words in 2002 and 2003. The FCC has not fined ABC for an indiscretion by Diane Keaton on ABC’s “Good Morning America” or Jane Fonda on NBC’s “Today” show. Most of the controversial cases seem to involve celebrities rather than amateurs on reality shows, which usually are taped anyway. Furthermore, networks generally seem to do a good job of screening applicants.

“Pro-family” groups argue that any leniency by the FCC would move "family" network television into the area of “R rated” cable channels.

There is a story by Fran Ahrens “Networks say live TV is at stake in Fox case, The Washington Post, Saturday April 5, here.

There is another story by John Dunbar in the Washington Post from AP, “DOJ sues Fox over indecency fines,” link here about an episode of “Married in America.”

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