The Federal Communications Commission is considering making changes to how it polices the television and radio airwaves for indecent content.
In a notice for industry and consumer comments issued Monday, the FCC said it wants to ensure that its enforcement of indecency rules is “fully consistent with vital First Amendment principles.” The move comes in the wake of a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that said the regulatory agency’s enforcement of indecency rules was too “vague.”
This could lead to new rules that would raise the bar for fining broadcasters for indecency. According to senior FCC officials, the agency is trying to determine if it should shift the focus of its enforcement efforts to egregious cases such as a radio personality spewing expletives or talking dirty for shock value. Along those same lines, there is a school of thought that there should be less emphasis on the occasional inadvertent fleeting expletive or flash of nudity, such as Janet Jackson’s breast during a Super Bowl halftime show.
That would be in keeping with the thinking of current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who was not as aggressive as his predecessor, Kevin Martin, in pursuing indecency fines. Genachowski has said he is stepping down in the coming weeks. No successor has been named but it would be unlikely that his replacement would have a radically different view given that both take their cues from the White House that appoints them.
The news will no doubt be met with relief from broadcasters worried about getting fined for goofs such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco getting caught on microphone swearing in jubilation after his team won the Super Bowl.
The FCC also said it has reduced its backlog of indecency complaints by 70% to 465,544 from almost 1.5 million last September. Many of the complaints, the agency said, were beyond the statute of limitations or “too stale to pursue.”
The complaints are only for broadcast TV and radio. The FCC has no oversight over content on pay-TV such as HBO and FX or on Internet sites.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.