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Supreme Court to Hear FCC Indecency Case 453

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the arbitrary-standards dept.
MachineShedFred writes "The Supreme Court of the United States has announced that it will be hearing the FCC's appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that the FCC has changed its policy on fleeting expletives without adequate explanation. It's now on the FCC to explain to the Supreme Court why its policy has changed. This is also the first time the Supreme Court has heard a major 'broadcast indecency' case in 30 years."
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Supreme Court to Hear FCC Indecency Case

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  • In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnick (1211984) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:09PM (#22775416) Homepage
    FTA:

    Solicitor General Paul Clement ... argued that the decision "places the commission in an untenable position," powerless to stop the airing of expletives even when children are watching.
    Airing violent murders when children are watching? Still OK.
    • by Wordplay (54438)
      What, your TV doesn't have a v-chip?

      Technology obviated the need for "decency timeslots" a long time ago...if only parents would use it.
      • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gnick (1211984) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:30PM (#22775690) Homepage

        What, your TV doesn't have a v-chip?
        Actually it doesn't... But, I do have a superior system in place - Administrative controls. My kids are allowed to watch what I tell them they're allowed to watch. They have no televisions in their rooms and they'll have to get significantly more tech-savvy if they want to defeat the logging on my DVR. There's nothing technologically stopping from watching anything coming in, but we'd certainly have a chat about it if it was something objectionable.

        Technology obviated the need for "decency timeslots" a long time ago...if only parents would use it.
        I'd say that an obligation to parent responsibly should have superseded the need for "decency timeslots" from square one. Just my opinion...
        • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

          by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:55PM (#22776034) Homepage Journal
          Definitely. Such administrative controls can also be used to get children to 1) do their homework, 2) do their chores (aka "assigned tasks"), 3) eat their vegetables, and/or 4) go outside and get some fresh air before the TV can even be turned on.

          It's called parenting. When I was growing up, there were no technological controls available. We didn't have TVs in our bedrooms, and we were only allowed to watch what we were told we were allowed to watch. You watch something else and you were going to get yourself into trouble.

          The bottom line is that if you need technology to control what you're kids are watching -- you are doing something wrong.
          • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

            by blueg3 (192743) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:14PM (#22776278)
            Certainly true. To an extent, though, the purpose of these regulations such as those the FCC enforces (and those that various cable networks self-enforce) are to supply parents with information about programming they're not already familiar with. I suppose some parents view it as "too late" if their children accidentally see something unexpected on television (such as, for example, cooking and serving a human placenta on a daytime food show). Of course, this doesn't apply to programming that you're already familiar with and that has a consistent quality. (I'd mostly be concerned about younger children, and children's programming certainly falls into this category.)

            I don't agree with that mindset -- incidental exposure isn't too damaging -- but the FCC regulations aren't entirely intended simply to prevent children from viewing objectionable content while removing the need from parental supervision.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              I suppose some parents view it as "too late" if their children accidentally see something unexpected on television (such as, for example, cooking and serving a human placenta on a daytime food show).

              Actually, I doubt that would be covered by how most of these 'obscenities' are classified. Nor do I think it should.

              After all, what part of that would be 'obscene'?
        • by sconeu (64226)
          Exactly.

          When my daughters got computers, we sat down and had a talk. I told them that I didn't have filtering software installed on their machines, because I believed I had raised them properly.

          I then informed them that i retained the right to inspect their computers at any time, and if I found something that I considered troublesome, there would be a huge problem.

          It's worked so far.
      • by WilyCoder (736280) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:54PM (#22776010)
        "What, your TV doesn't have a v-chip?" No, but my hand certainly has a "back".
        • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sm62704 (957197) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:49PM (#22776632) Journal
          "What, your TV doesn't have a v-chip?" No, but my hand certainly has a "back".

          I don't know where this originated, but the Bellamy Brothers have a very similar song that Google can't seem to find the lyrics to.

          I had a drug problem when I was young: I was drug to church on Sunday morning. I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug to family reunions and community socials no matter the weather.

          I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher. Or if I didn't put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me. I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profane four letter word. I was drug out to pull weeds in mom's garden and flower beds and cockleburs
          out of dad's fields.

          I was drug to the homes of family, friends, and neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline or chop some fire wood. And if my mother had ever known that I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she would have drug me back to the wood shed.

          Those drugs are still in my veins; and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, and think. They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin, and if today's children had this kind of drug problem, America might be a better place today.
    • by sgt.greywar (1039430) * on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:17PM (#22775516) Homepage Journal
      Inconsistency is our watchword. Also incompetance.
    • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by explosivejared (1186049) <hagan.jared@g m a i l .com> on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:28PM (#22775660)
      Well sensible parents would take care of their children and regulate what they watch. They would also discuss with their children the things they saw on tv and try to make the children understand the distinctions between the real world and fantasy. They would not rely on the, as my libertarian friend so lovingly calls it, the nanny-state to tell them what is ok for other people put on the air in front of children.

      So in a situation that doesn't even have to be perfect, the whole premise of indecency is moot.

      Lot's of people complain about neocons, or corporations, or illegal immigrants, or terrorists, or deviants ruining our country. They are so far off. Unfit and downright harmful parents are far worse.
      • Re:In other news (Score:5, Informative)

        by ucblockhead (63650) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:39PM (#22777156) Homepage Journal
        My son is 5 1/2. I don't believe he has seen live TV since he was six months old. Between DVDs and Tivo, it is pretty easy to completely control what he watches.

        It wasn't profanity that prompted us to do this. It was the violent promos for the local and national news. But we didn't need the government to solve that for us.
    • by fm6 (162816)
      Which speaks to the nasty truth about TV censorship: it's not about "decency" or "protecting the children," it's about keeping people from complaining. Thus you can't say "cunt", but you can say "nookie" even though it's also a reference to the vagina, because most people (or at least the people who run the Outraged Parents of America or whatever) think it's just a cute way of saying "have sex". Then there's "prick" and "schmuck" which are English and Yiddish words for the same thing. As a person of Jewish
  • I think... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:12PM (#22775458)
    I think I speak for us all when I say "About fucking time!"
    • by poetmatt (793785)
      That shouldn't have been a troll from the AC. That would have been positive modding that should have gone on there.

      He is right when he says "about fucking time", as that is exactly the verbiage that reflects on the problems we're having with indecency lately. Fleeting expletives are almost impossible to control and had it not been for "puritanical" views being shoved onto broadcast TV and radio, such wouldn't be a concern. It would also give radio a better selling point versus XM/Sirius as well, considerin
  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:13PM (#22775466) Homepage Journal
    How blatantly arbitrary and unfair. Why is the FCC flipping out over "fck" on the radio after this [wikipedia.org] went unpunished!

    On a related note( possibly straying offtopic) this was a big issue in L.A. and elsewhere across the US with Spanish-language radio stations that were getting away with their equivalent [puertorico-herald.org] of uncensored Howard Stern. How will the FCC go after them? What about Korean radio curses? When does it end? Hopefully the FCC will be so swamped with complaints that they'll be unable to investigate them all, and then they'll quit being our mommy and focus their efforts towards the future of spectral management.
    • by Hatta (162192) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:16PM (#22775496) Journal
      How blatantly arbitrary and unfair. Why is the FCC flipping out over "fck" on the radio after this went unpunished!

      Because the FCC only regulates over the air broadcasts. The FCC *is* arbitrary, unfair, and evil, but you should learn a bit before criticizing them, or no one will take you seriously.
    • by Walpurgiss (723989) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:18PM (#22775536)
      It went more or less unpunished because South Park is on a cable TV network, not broadcast TV. The 6am - 10pm decency rules don't apply to cable or satellite television broadcasts.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7301244.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      This bbc story about it mentions this information.
      • by esocid (946821)
        Which is exactly why Comedy Central can air things 100% uncensored in their "secret stash." You get Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and any other movies in all their [expletive deleted] glory.

        [expletive deleted] != Fuck
        Just kidding.
    • by gnick (1211984) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:20PM (#22775558) Homepage
      A couple of local DJs, in order to avoid fines over the word "shit", have taken to regularly saying "shite". Why in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is one any more inappropriate than the other?!? This is just farking silly. If a radio station/TV station/whatever airs stuff that you find offensive or inappropriate for your kids, change the fuggin station...
    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Of all the strange "crimes" that human beings have legislated of nothing, "blasphemy" is the most amazing - with "obscenity" and "indecent exposure" fighting it out for the second and third place. - RAH [heinleinsociety.org]
      So it's really nothing new.
    • by bhima (46039) *
      It's arbitrary because the FCC does not give a flying fuck.

      They only react to complaints. The only complaints they get are from a single Christian Asshole group "Family Television Council". The vast majority of individual complainants having never seen the broadcast they are complaining about.

      It is also not surprising than non English broadcasts don't have similar complaints (despite Latinos being largely conservative... this is because there is high correlation between Christian Assholism and the racism
  • by HungSoLow (809760) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:16PM (#22775510)
    In some cases you can watch people fuck, but you can't say fuck. Others you can see someone get fucked up, but can't say fuck. I mean seriously, what the fuck?
  • FTFA

    The FCC has pending before it "hundreds of thousands of complaints" regarding the broadcast of expletives, Clement said. He argued that the appeals court decision has left the agency "accountable for the coarsening of the airwaves while simultaneously denying it effective tools to address the problem."
    Giving government more power to control the people is NOT the same as denying them tools to address a problem. It's denying them tools to control the people
  • Fucking FCC (Score:4, Funny)

    by Gr33nNight (679837) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:21PM (#22775574)
    The fucking FCC can fucking go fuck themselves if they fucking think that removing fucking expletives from the fucking TV is going to protect the fucking children. I fucking heard the goddamn fuck parents swear all the goddamn time and I am perfectly fucking OK, goddammit.
  • When I read this in TFA...
    =======
    "f------ brilliant." The FCC said the "F-word" in any context "inherently has a sexual connotation" and can trigger enforcement.
    ======= ...I couldn't help but wonder if the FCC thinks fire comes out of your ass when you fuck?!

  • Self censorship (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheP4st (1164315) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:23PM (#22775618)
    I am baffled that American media is so afraid of offending it's viewers and readers that AP is indulging in self censorship to such an extent that they don't even write the word shit in the article. "Cher used the phrase "F--- 'em" and a Dec. 10, 2003, Billboard awards show in which reality show star Nicole Richie said, "Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It's not so f------ simple." What I find most disturbing is that people who find words like fuck, ass, cunt etc being too offensive to be broadcasted often are the very same that shout the most when Muslims object against publication of images depicting Mohammed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jav1231 (539129)
      Not to defend them but words like "fuck" and "ass" and "cunt" are societal taboos. Depicting Mohammed is a religious taboo so its focus is much narrower. Societal taboos change over time. Even now "ass" is becoming less a swear word and more a synonym for butt.

      • by EricWright (16803)
        It's been years ... nay, a decade or more, since ass was verboten on the US airwaves. The first words out of Bender's mouth in the first Futurama episode (aired in late 1999) were "Bite my shiny metal ass". The local radio station will actually bleep the LAST half of the word 'asshole' in songs in which it appears. There's even an entire show with ass in the title: Jackass.
  • Bono (Score:4, Funny)

    by esocid (946821) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:27PM (#22775654) Journal

    Fox Broadcasting Co., along with ABC, CBS and NBC, challenged the new policy after the commission said broadcasts of entertainment awards shows in 2002 and 2003 were indecent because of profanity uttered by Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie.
    I, personally, am offended by anything that comes from the brains of two of those three people.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by compro01 (777531)

      I, personally, am offended by anything that comes from the brains of two of those three people.
      objection! assumes organs not in evidence.
  • I'm optimistic. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Toonol (1057698) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:31PM (#22775698)
    I think it's very likely that the FCC will lose on this one. The first amendment is one of the few areas that can often bring both sides of the court together, and one of the few rights that may be even stronger today than it was decades back.

    My bet is that, while the basic principle that the FCC can regulate public airwaves won't be challenged, the court will chastise them for inconsistent and arbitrary enforcement and their unclear guidelines.
  • One approach would be to have the default as-shipped v-chip settings be more conservative, so that people have to go into a setup menu to specifically request more violence, more nudity, more adult language. Given that, networks should then be free to mark their broadcasts appropriately (regardless of time of day) and not worry about who will be offended. Anyone offendable won't be able to watch the broadcast without changing their TV settings to allow it.

    IOW, why have both the FCC and V-chips. One shoul
    • Re:v-chip (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BitZtream (692029) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:05PM (#22776182)

      One approach would be to have the default as-shipped v-chip settings be more conservative, so that people have to go into a setup menu to specifically request more violence, more nudity, more adult language. Given that, networks should then be free to mark their broadcasts appropriately (regardless of time of day) and not worry about who will be offended. Anyone offendable won't be able to watch the broadcast without changing their TV settings to allow it.
      Or we could just modify the default settings for parents to have them do their job and be parents rather than depending on someone/something else to pay attention to what their child is doing. Perhaps if they would actually do their job as a parent rather than breeding then pawning their kids off on someone else to watch them and depend on technology and goverment bodies to determine whats safe for them to hear/see then the US might not be in the state its in currently.

      IOW, why have both the FCC and V-chips. One should be enough as far as content goes.
      As per my above statement, neither are needed for censorship in this matter, just have parents that pay attention to what their kids are doing, then neither is needed, its distributed computing the way its meant to be. What these things facilitate is parents who are completely out of touch with their children.

      Appearently is okay to let your children watch the news reports of school shootings so they get the idea to do it themselves rather be responsible and in touch with your child enough to know that A) watching such thing isn't the brightest of ideas for your unstable goth brat, B) you might actually notice they are an unstable goth brat who has no idea how good their life is compared to someone with real problems.

      Slightly in line with this rant ... I think we should send all the little depressed teenagers who think life is soooooooo horrible to Ethiopia for a 6 month period to live with a family that has real problems, let them figure out how bad life can actually be rather than cuddling them and telling them how sorry we are for them.
  • by Pojut (1027544) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:54PM (#22776014) Homepage
    And not have any form of TV service, be it cable or otherwise, coming into our house. Granted, my girlfriend and I don't have kids as of yet (we are only 23), but when we do, TV will be something that DVD's and video games are displayed on, not something that MTV will be piped into.

    I would much rather have my child playing video games for 20 hours a week than watching TV for 20 hours a week. At least by playing video games, they are learning hand-eye coordination, problem solving, strategic thinking, and awareness of their surroundings. Granted, there is the whole "violent video games" argument, but that's neither here nor there insofar as what I think of TV.

    I don't object to TV because it's violent or anything like that...I object to it because you are doing literally nothing while sitting in front of it. Try beating Ninja Gaiden Black on Master Ninja difficulty and tell me you weren't just doing something involved.
  • by JonC88 (1176057) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:59PM (#22776102)

    I'm a DJ for a very large college radio station (broadcasting all over the Boston metropolitan area in the middle of FM dial) and the most disconcerting facet of the post-wardrobe malfunction FCC crackdowns is the fact that even a single incident would result in my station being shut down. We got one complaint a few years ago (in the more tolerant era), so now, if we were to become a repeat offender, the fine--several hundred thousand dollars--would completely bankrupt the station. SInce we're independently funded through ad revenue, there's no way we could pay, and we'd be off the air--just if somebody complained to the FCC because a late-night DJ slipped up and said "Fuck" on air, even when we're actually allowed to play music containing the same word.

    To me, at least, it seems incredibly obvious that the punishments are beyond the limits of sanity. The FCC is trying to look out for the standards of our community? Yes, my station plays underground rock and hip-hop at night (I DJ for those programs), but during the day, it's exclusively jazz and classical. If, at 3am, a hip-hop DJ curses, leading to a complaint and the end of the station, who really loses? I suspect that the thousands of classical and jazz listeners would be more on the losing end than the asshole who called in the complaint or any of the other people who happened to hear the word "Fuck" in the middle of the night.

    The FCC is just one manifestation of how colossally fucked up governmental regulation is becoming. I'm all for the government trying to help out the people, but not when there's clearly no understanding of how the real world actually operates.

  • by yuna49 (905461) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:04PM (#22776158)
    The Supreme Court chooses to hear roughly 100 cases per year from a pool of some 7,500 petitions. After not touching the issue of broadcast language for 30 years, at least four Justices agreed to hear such a case now. Is this an effort by the conservative wing of the Court to uphold the FCC's (and the Bush Administration's) position that some censorship is required and legitimate? Perhaps, but I think this case might be about something else.

    The Appeals Court did not rule that the FCC had abridged speech or press freedoms in these cases, but instead that the FCC's policy was not sufficiently well justified. There are standards for the behavior of regulatory agencies like the FCC that require them to spell out in sufficient detail why they've made a change in the rules. The Appeals Court ruled that the FCC had failed to meet these standards. That Court also advised the FCC it didn't think there was a way the Commission could implement its intended policy consititutionally. Since the Supremes are really ruling on the procedural matter, the question of why they took this case becomes even more cloudy.

    I suspect the Bushies are defending other cases where the issue is whether a regulatory agency has provided sufficient justification for changing course. Rules like these restrict the president's ability to change the regulatory regime since opponents of the changes can go to court claiming the agency didn't fulfill its obligations. All those proponents of a strong Executive in the Administration like Dick Cheney would probably love to see the Supremes agree that the FCC had done its job.

    I wish we could learn who voted for cert, but those votes are secret.
  • by Stanislav_J (947290) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:08PM (#22776214)

    The FCC has pending before it "hundreds of thousands of complaints" regarding the broadcast of expletives, Clement said. He argued that the appeals court decision has left the agency "accountable for the coarsening of the airwaves while simultaneously denying it effective tools to address the problem."

    I think "hundreds of thousands" is hyperbole -- I can imagine MAYBE a few tens of thousands at most. And it has been shown in the past that the vast majority of these are usually automated "copy, sign, and send" complaints coming from a very tiny group of people associated with some of the right-wing Christian watchdog groups. I seem to recall that of the complaints that came in about the infamous "wardrobe malfunction," all but a tiny handful came from ONE group's members.

    I guess I'm someone who just never understood the whole concept of certain words arbitrarily being designated as "naughty." Profanity serves a purpose in language -- it can be overdone, but there are also times when it is entirely appropriate. I cringe every time I watch "Law and Order" or other crime shows and hear some gang member or drug dealer use the contrived euphemism "friggin'" -- it rings SO false and destroys the credibility of the character.

    And I guess I don't understand people who are offended to the point of pathology by words. Just words. Not even necessarily the idea behind the words (which can be offensive, for much better reasons) but the words themselves. It's like hearing or using those words is some sort of magical incantation that will corrupt their children, compromise their salvation, and spell the doom of Western civilization.

    The best of the bunch are the folks who condescendingly say, "The English language is so rich, there are plenty of words and synonyms -- why so you have to use THOSE words?" And my response is: if you truly appreciate the breadth and variety of the language, why are you trying to LIMIT the number of words that can be used?

  • by Comboman (895500) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:47PM (#22776600)
    The Supreme Court of the United States has announced that it will be hearing the FCC's appeal [CC] to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision that the FCC has changed its policy on fracking expletives without adequate explanation.

    There, fixed it.

  • by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:50PM (#22776646) Homepage
    ...about 'g' rated evangelism on TV. Truly. What the fuck? If ANYTHING requires parental guidance, it's that religious brainwashing being brought to your 5 year old on public television. That crap should be what is being forced into different timeslots and censored. Certainly not given a "TV-G" rating! Christ!
  • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:10PM (#22776846) Homepage
    Anybody ever notice that The Who's "Who are you?" tune contains the phrase "Who the fuck are you?" towards the end? I can't say that I've ever heard it bleeped, or omitted. It's just there, every time the song is played over the public "censored" airwaves.
  • by Thaelon (250687) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:45PM (#22777198)
    What we first need to do is change the FCC so that it's not headed by appointed officials, but rather by elected representatives.

    The FCC's power has grown far beyond it's original intention (regulating airwaves frequencies in the U.S.). Apparently they only do things in response to complaints. Or at least that's how it once was. But the really fucked up thing is 99% of complaints come from one organization [arstechnica.com].

    So essentially this one single organization is responsible for most of the - detrimental in my opinion - changes to what is allowed to be broadcast or not.

    It's not the popular decision. People just think it is because this one fucked up organization has such broad powers and people just assume that it's the popular opinion. It is not.

    The organization responsible for all this? The Parent's Television Council [parentstv.org]. The sick thing is they're proud to be the nation's most influential advocacy organization [parentstv.org] yet have barely a million members [parentstv.org]. That's right one million uptight fucks are responsible for 99.8-99.9% of all FCC regulation that affects 303 million people [census.gov].

    And the FCC allows it.

    To other countries: The US is not up tight! Most of us love a good nipple on TV. It's this one organization that has been acting via the screwed up joke that is our FCC that has watered down our TV, not popular opinion.

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