Deciding What We Watch: Taste, Decency, and Media Ethics in the UK and the USA

Deciding What We Watch: Taste, Decency, and Media Ethics in the UK and the USA

Deciding What We Watch: Taste, Decency, and Media Ethics in the UK and the USA

Deciding What We Watch: Taste, Decency, and Media Ethics in the UK and the USA

Synopsis

The recent history of broadcasting on both sides of the Atlantic, characterized by a great increase in the number of services on offer to the public, has been brought about by technological advances and economic pressures. This has inevitably affected traditional forms of content regulation. The book explores the moral basis and history of such regulation as it has until now been applied to major issues of taste and decency. These include the protection of children, obscenity and bad language, offences against religious sensibility, `reality' television, and stereotyping. Deciding What we Watch? considers the different constraints (in the law, cultural customs, and self-regulation) affecting broadcasters in the two societies and the means by which they have responded to them. The book describes, with examples, the operations of compliance regulations and standard controls. It also looks at the impact of the First Amendment on American broadcasting in this area. It looks at the arguments for the practicality of maintaining appropriate forms of restraint into the future. Deciding What we Watch? poses the question of how divided and diverse societies decide what is permissible to broadcast and how the issue might continue to evolve in the future.

Excerpt

I would not wish this book to sail under false colours. As much as a look into the future, it is a personal enquiry into the past, but more rigorous than a simple essay in nostalgia. It has as much to do with personal experiences as with abstract principles. I spent a large part of the forty-three years in which I worked in British broadcasting attempting to deal with many of the issues of taste and decency described in the following pages. Although there were codes and guidelines, some of which I helped to write, much of what had to be done then, as now, was done pragmatically. I and my colleagues applied what we hoped was common sense to situations which, in the nature of both radio and television, rarely had a precise parallel.

Time passed and the rate of change in the broadcasting industry accelerated. It had always had a special dynamic, moving in sixty years from radio to television, black-and-white to colour, am to fm, monaural to stereophonic, and, in Britain, from monopoly to competition. But from the 1980s the dynamic was charged with fresh energies, economic and technological. Cable and satellite services became large-scale realities, ending the scarcity of frequencies which had been used in arguments to justify the existence of content-regulators like myself and my colleagues. the majority of us believed that we had been acting in the public interest, attempting to ensure that a sense of public morality was maintained in the use of the scarce public resource which frequencies represented.

With the evaporation of the scarcity argument, the existence of content‐ regulators became more problematical. in the United States, a commercial broadcasting system constitutionally averse, in more senses than one, to intervention by a regulator had maintained an almost permanent challenge to the Federal Communications Commission over matters of content. the deregulation fever which struck America under the Reagan administration left commerce firmly in the saddle and the fcc further constrained in the expression of any concerns with content. At the same time, however, American courts, as well as Congress, have indicated a willingness to continue to treat broadcasting differently from print, citing its . . .

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