Thousands slam proposal to relax FCC decency standards

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The battle over swearing and sex on the airways is still in full swing.

On April 1, the Federal Communications Commission asked for comment on a proposal to relax its standards on profanity and nudity for radio and network television.

Nearly 94,000 public comments have been filed, most of them negative, and 78 traditional-values groups Wednesday released a letter of protest to members of Congress.

“We urgently request that you do all you can to stop the proposed enforcement standard,” including opposing any nominee to the FCC who would support the proposal, leaders of the Parents Television Council, Morality in Media and dozens of other groups wrote to members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The letter was also sent to the five FCC commissioners.

Currently, FCC decency standards do not permit profanity and nudity on broadcasts using the publicly owned airwaves during times when children are likely to be in the audience. This generally means 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The proposal would change this policy to clarify that networks are liable for “deliberate and repetitive” profanities, but not when a random curse word slips out. Similarly isolated, nonsexual nudity would also no longer be actionable — meaning that a “wardrobe malfunction” during a Super Bowl halftime show would not result in a fine.

The comment period for the proposal runs through May 20, and will be followed by a reply period that ends June 18, FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said Wednesday.

The FCC policy proposal follows a lawsuit over vulgar words spoken on awards shows aired by Fox television stations.

In its 2012 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the FCC can create laws to control indecent content without violating the Constitution — but “vague” regulations on indecency are not constitutional.

In September, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asked for a review of the indecency policies and enforcement to ensure that they are “fully consistent” with the First Amendment.

To date, however, the overwhelming majority of the nearly 94,000 comments oppose the policy change.

“Please do NOT allow more sex, nudity, and bad language on network TV,” wrote a Florida woman. “Have some class for goodness sake,” said a woman, from Paducah, Ky.

Comments from the few supporters of the change urged the FCC “to advance beyond the Victorian era” and realize that “neither expletives nor non-sexual nudity should be considered indecent.”

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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