This week Fox and CBS argued in two appeals courts that the Federal Communications Commission’s (not to be confused with the “Ministry of Truth” from Orwell’s ‘1984’) recent severe crackdown on fleeting nudity and profanity is unconstitutional.
Fox is playing the part of Bart Simpson to the FCC’s Principal Seymour Skinner by fighting back over the ruling that expletives uttered during the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards were indecent, saying that the government’s standard is unclear and contradicts earlier court precedents. The FCC didn’t fine Fox for the foul language, but did warn the network it would not get off the hook so easily in the future.
Meanwhile, Janet Jackson’s mammary gland continues to make trouble for CBS. That’s right. The genesis of this whole crackdown is Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” from the 2004 Superbowl broadcast. CBS got fined a cool $550,000, but is arguing in the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia that the stunt was an unintentional obscenity and that it had no advance knowledge.
Says CBS according to TV.com, "The FCC's adoption of what amounts to a zero-tolerance approach is a direct repudiation of governing constitutional principles set forth by the Supreme Court." Fox takes a gentler position with the following, "The FCC's ban on broadcast indecency is unconstitutionally vague."
Meanwhile, the FCC responds with, "We believe there should be some limits on what can be shown on television when children are likely to be watching."
The FCC is right in looking out for the interests of children by taking networks to task over obscenities. The Jackson incident prompted thousands of calls from outraged viewers, and certainly had no place on a family friendly, internationally-televised sports event. However, Congress grossly overreacted by passing a new law directly after the 2004 Superbowl that boosted fines tenfold to as much as $325,000 per incident. Effectively, the FCC no longer has just the “long arm of the law,” but a giant cartoon mallet in hand that’s capable of smashing networks to pieces.
However, the FCC has shown flexibility in its zero-tolerance take. Earlier this month it gave CBS a pass over an expletive aired during a morning show because it was a news program, and dropped a similar case against ABC as well.
Currently, government regulations limit the airing of indecent material between 10 PM and 6 AM, when children are most likely asleep. You can even catch Dave Chappelle doing stand-up uncut and in all his raunchy (and hilarious!) glory if you tune in to Comedy Central during those hours.