FCC fines ABC $1.5m for 5-year-old infraction

by Paul William Tenny

It's funny how conservatives (i.e. Republicans) are the first to object to the government interfering in a family's rights when it comes to parenting and running their household, and generally fight all forms of regulation even when it's desperately required, but are always coming into your home unannounced, sitting down onto the couch next to you, holding your remote control, and deciding what you -- presumably a mature adult with a car and a real job and everything -- can watch on television.

The FCC under Republican control (it's a five-member panel with a Republican president that gets to decide who gets nominated -- do the math) has been rebuked by the courts for trying to regulate far beyond what congress ever intended for it to do. And yet, time after time in the most inane situations, they insist that adults sitting in their own home are incapable of making decisions about what they and their kids should be able to watch on TV.
Does it surprise you to know that well over 99% of the complaints over the infamous Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" incident were generated by the Parents Television Council through a pre-written letter campaign? That's right, there were something like 400 complaints to the FCC for the entire year proceeding that one minor incident, yet was followed with tens of thousands of complaints from just a single website. After that? Back down to about 600 complaints the next year, if my memory serves.

Perhaps the FCC was right to act on that, but what about a single scene from a show that has been off the air for nearly five years that showed no actual nudity?

While still smarting from an appeals court rebuke that stopped its attempt to regulate fleeting expletives, the Federal Communications Commission slapped ABC with a $1.4 million fine over a five-year-old episode of "NYPD Blue," a show no longer on the air.

Episode, broadcast Feb. 25, 2003, included scenes of "adult female nudity," as the FCC said in its finding, released late Friday. A woman was visibly naked with her back to the camera and a portion of one breast was seen in profile, the agency said. Later, she turned toward the front, "with one arm and hand covering her breasts and the other hand covering her pubic area," the finding stated.

Regulators claimed that this and other portions of the scenes constituted "dwelling on sexual and/or excretory organs," which falls under the purview of FCC indecency authority. Such material cannot be aired between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are likely to be in the viewing audience.

I understand the rationale behind limiting certain things to the late hours of the night, after kids are supposedly likely to be in bed, but for a show known as a dark, dreary drama with adult themes, language, and violence, that is probably aired at 9pm since after 10, most adults are going to be in bed as well, I think the FCC has gone way too far. This isn't about the freedom of speech, although I think that certainly applies here, I'm going to throw a conservative argument right back into their own faces: what business does the "nanny state" government have telling people what they can and can't watch that late in the evening?

That a child is still awake at 9pm and watching NYPD Blue ought to tell you what the real problem is: parents not caring for their kids. This is an intentional distortion of the definition of obscenity to further the conservative control-all-aspects-of-an-adults-personal-life agenda, to bring every aspect of your personal life into line with their own moral standards.

There simply are no objective standards here and none of these rules are going to help "protect" the innocent children from bad parenting that allowed them to be up that late, and to watch television freely in the first place. Instead, what you've got are hypocrites bent on controlling your life for you since you aren't responsible enough to do it on your own.

And none of that even addresses the completely random enforcement of these subjective standards that has allowed the FCC to pick a half-decade-old instance out of thin air just for the fun of it.

As if that weren't enough, ABC's first line of defense was the conservatives first line of attack during the Clinton administration, and simply put, the single most effective measure of control that could possibly exist under the law that is both empowering to the parents, and a wonderful example of how self-regluation can and does work, and illuminating in that even when it does work, it is often ignored since it was the true object of this conservative agenda in the first place, that being complete and outright censorship:

NYPD Blue ... was an Emmy Award-winning drama, broadcast with appropriate parental warnings as well as V-chip enabled program ratings from the time such ratings were implemented. When the brief scene in question was telecast almost five years ago, this critically acclaimed drama had been on the air for a decade, and the realistic nature of its storylines was well known to the viewing public. ABC feels strongly that the FCC's finding is inconsistent with prior precedent from the commission, the indecency statute, and the First Amendment, and we intend to oppose the proposed fine.

Every television set in the country manufactured in the past eight years has a V-Chip installed as a matter of law, and all programming from satellite and capable adheres to the industries rating system. In what is probably the overwhelming majority of cases, there existed then just as it exists now the ability for parents to program their television to block any programming that they deem unsuitable for their family.

This has been the case for years and yet rather than the FCC moving quietly into the background while parents assert their rights and responsibilities within the home due entirely to a program that the FCC itself helped push into existence, this bureaucratic and often ultra-socially conservative monster has asserted itself in ways previously unheard of to regulate every sight and sound you see and hear.

The courts have turned the FCC back on a number of occasions for reaching beyond their authority -- initially to regulate the use of the airwaves in the publics interest -- and yet they still push forward even after getting technology such as the V-chip universally adopted in this country.

Parents have had for years the ability to keep programming such as NYPD Blue out of their home with a few one-time clicks on their remote control, which in a way has made even the lightest regulation by the FCC inappropriate at best.

Even with the laymen management infrastructure we've had for eight years now, those who decry regulation the most are pushing the envelope into new areas of stupid in search of the final solution to their concept of indecency: completely transparent censorship of all programming that isn't suited for a toddler, and even then, if anything looks a little "gay", that's unacceptable, too.

And with your tax dollars, you're the one funding it.
in Legal, Television


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