Vice Squad
Friday, May 07, 2004
Indecency Regulation By the FCC

The Nation has a fine article this week looking at the post-Super Bowl actions of the FCC. The article includes some material on the regulation of indecency and obscenity, borrowed from a "Parents' Place" website maintained by the FCC. According to the FCC site, obscene material cannot be broadcast on radio or TV, indecent (but not obscene) material cannot be broadcast between 6AM and 10PM (the precise times being the result of an FCC rule) and profane speech is verboten during the same hours.

The article in The Nation takes issue with the heightened obscenity enforcement by the FCC. I haven't had too much to say about this issue in the past because I don't really know where I stand, and I know that some of my co-bloggers disagree with my tentative position. (I guess that all my positions are tentative, but this one is "more tentative!") What is that tentative position...? ..., well, that I do not have a principled objection to some controls over indecent and profane material over "daytime" radio or TV broadcasts. (I probably do have a principled objection to such controls over cable or satellite or other forms of dissemination that show the receiver has taken some step beyond the purchase of a TV or radio to access programming.) Radios and television are ubiquitous in the US, and it is a good thing, too. Kids will frequently be exposed to radio and TV broadcasts, and probably often without adult supervision, and I think it is probably good that they don't require adult supervision. I also think that there is much to be said for channel or dial surfing, for sampling from stations with which you are not already familiar. Now, do I think that kids would be harmed by being exposed to indecent material? No. But some parents might disagree, and I think that it might be OK to order our world in such a way that they can shield their kids from indecency without turning the kids into hermits. I am not endorsing any specific controls over broadcast indecency, but right now I just don't feel as if all such controls are obviously unwarranted.

Incidentally, I don't own a television, and my radio listening does not tend towards Howard Stern. But I might reconsider on Howard, based on these observations from The Nation article, which was written by Jeff Jarvis:

"Let me tell you why I am such a Howard Stern fan. Until I reviewed his show for TV Guide, I had heard the same snippets, quotes and characterizations you had. I thought he was best taken in small doses. But after listening to him for a few weeks, I discovered that, to the contrary, he is best taken in large doses. For then you discover that Stern is charming, likable, decent, funny, a talented entertainer, a great interviewer, and--more than anything--honest.

Stern is an antidote to all the overpackaged, smiley, phony, condescending pap of personality in American media and entertainment. In an age of predictable news (shouldn't news be just the opposite?) and political correctness and numbing national rhetoric, Stern cuts through the crap and says what he thinks--and what many of us think. And that is incredibly refreshing. No, it's liberating."

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