Comments to FCC Overwhelmingly Support Strict Broadcast Indecency Rules

Public rejects FCC's proposed "egregious" standard for enforcing broadcast indecency

The FCC has been flooded with public comments about broadcast indecency, and the vast majority want the agency to keep its rules intact. 

On the last day for filing public comments, the agency had received 102,519 comments, almost all of them favor of keeping the existing rules, according to the Parents Television Council, which ran a vigorous campaign to flood the FCC with comments.

Enforcing broadcast indecency has always been a thorny and legal quagmire for the agency. The FCC has wound up in court numerous times, most recently defending itself for fining Fox over fleeting expletives and ABC for airing fleeting nudity. The court upheld the agency's authority to enforce broadcast indecency, but it also ruled that the guidelines should be clearer.

Before leaving the FCC, former chairman Julius Genachowski proposed that the FCC focus only on egregious cases and treat fleeting or isolated cases of expletives and nudity differently than cases of deliberate and/or repetitive cases. If the rule had existed when Bono and Cher used the f-word on TV or ABC showed a brief flash of a naked butt, those cases may not have been fined.

Broadcasters argue it's time to for the FCC to chuck rules from a bygone era that it can barely (no pun intended), nor legally define. "The time clearly has arrived to lay rest to the anachronistic notion that broadcast stations deserve anything less than the full First Amendment protection bestowed on all speakers by the Constitution," Fox wrote in its comments.

The PTC and more than 70 other organizations argue that their voice, not broadcasters, is the one that should be heard. They've lobbied Senators to block Tom Wheeler's nomination for FCC chair if he fails to enforce broadcast indecency. 

"It is essential for the FCC to remember whose interest it is that they are mandated by Congress to serve," said Tim Winter, president of the PTC.

Chances are FCC acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn will leave the final decision about how to enforce broadcast indecency to Wheeler, who could be approved by the Senate sometime in September if all goes smoothly. Lucky guy.