Anyone who has ever watched an episode of SNL when a cast member accidentally dropped an “f” bomb, or seen an excited musician or actor excitedly drop a curse at an awards ceremony, has been privy to a fleeting expletive. The act likely was not upsetting, didn’t ruin anybody’s dinner; didn’t do anything, in fact, except incur a few sly smiles in living rooms. Unfortunately for the network on the other end, the FCC drops a small bomb in the form of a fine on any network that allows unplanned indecency to air.
Officially, fleeting expletives and other indecencies are banned, and it’s been that way for a long while. Howard Stern’s radio program for WNBC was even on a seven-second delay to avoid such charges. But that could all change now that the Supreme Court is revisiting the issue.
The current case, between the FCC and network FOX, stems from fleeting expletive incidents occurring at “The Billboard Music Awards” back in 2002 and 2003. Sure, the network could just clam up and take the fine, but it’s the principle of the thing that lands us in a debate. Should a network be punished for a slip-up on live television? More importantly, is it constitutional for an arm of the government to impose laws that violate first amendment rights?
According to Politico, the FCC lost twice in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The matter might have ended there, but the Obama administration has now decided to appeal the case in a higher court. Perhaps sensing a win, the FCC has welcomed the review. Fox and the networks on the other end of the battle seem clearly pissed.
The issue sounds a little like two groups having a hissy fit, but there really is more at stake. Whatever the Supreme Court decides will set a precedent for what is allowed or not allowed in the future. Five years from now, the government might control every live event that airs, forcing tape delays and possibly leading to more stringent governmental impositions. Is it the government’s job to regulate our televisions? I would ardently argue, no.
I’m not saying I’m a better person for seeing a Janet Jackson nipple slip. But when it comes to permanently losing an ounce of freedom or occasionally being privy to something a little risqué, I’d take the latter, any day. If my children occasionally hear an “f” bomb, I think it will be O.K. I’m sure they’ve heard worse from the other kids at school.