Magazine article Variety

Oh $%^&: FCC Tries Again to Clean Up Indecency Act

Magazine article Variety

Oh $%^&: FCC Tries Again to Clean Up Indecency Act

Article excerpt

FLEETING FLAP

Commission angles to limit probes to only 'egregious' cases

Just as he is about to exit, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is setting up a question that will be left to his successor: Just how should the agency deal with a backlog of indecency complaints.

Given the propensity for watchdog groups to complain that the agency is too lax, and broadcasters to sue the FCC for being too vague, it's doubtful that any new policy will be anything other than a can of worms.

On April 1, the agency opened the docket on whether to adopt a policy where it investigates only "egregious" cases of indecency, a seeming change from a policy adopted in 2004 that sanctioned even "fleeting" swear words as well as nudity. The problem with the latter is that the networks found little rhyme or reason to the rulings, and took the agency to the Supreme Court twice, seeking to overturn the decisions or to strip the FCC's authority to police content on the airwaves altogether.

But the Supreme Court's recent decision to strike the FCC's rulings against the networks for airing such incidents as Cher and Nicole Richie's f-bombs was narrow, and left the door open to the agency acting on complaints over such unexpected utterances. Genachowski has seemed to have little appetite to make indecency enforcement a priority, at least compared to his predecessor. But last September, faced with a huge backlog of complaints that lingered as litigation dragged on, he did direct the agency's enforcement bureau to focus only on "egregious" cases, with many complaints dismissed, often because the statute of limitations had run out. …

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