- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2013

A proposal to change federal policy on broadcast indecency is denounced by tens of thousands of American viewers, but it is supported by industry leaders who want to see the “zero-tolerance” policy jettisoned.

The tug of war over the Federal Communications Commission policy is not expected to be addressed until after a new FCC chairman and commission member are installed later this year.

But a comment period for the proposal — which ended Friday and collected more than 102,000 responses — showed the deep revulsion many Americans have for vulgarity, profanity and crassness, especially in television programming.

“The ban for profanity and nudity on TV should not be dropped. I think it is awful what comes over the airwaves as it is. Prime time already has things that children and adults should not have to be subjected to,” wrote Doris Grant of Hamilton, Ill., echoing comments made by myriad other parents, grandparents and viewers.

“The FCC asked for the public’s comment and they got it,” said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group for entertainment media. “By a margin of nearly 1,000 to 1, the American public told the FCC to enforce existing broadcast indecency law and not to weaken it,” he said.

Industry leaders, however, asked the FCC to revise their policy.

Boston’s WBUR-FM “never uses potentially profane or indecent language intentionally or gratuitously,” wrote Charles J. Kravetz, general manager of the public radio station.

But during and after the April bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, it was “virtually impossible to report on this unfolding story without the real danger of profanity ending up on the air,” Mr. Kravetz said, adding that fear of hefty fines affected the staff’s news reporting.

The FCC should “return to its historically restrained indecency enforcement scheme under which fleeting words and images were not considered actionably indecent,” wrote lawyers for the ABC Television Affiliates Association.

Moreover, for future complaints, viewers should be required to certify — within a month — that they viewed offensive material on a public broadcast, in the company of a child, before 10 p.m., said lawyers for 14 broadcasters, including Cox Media Group and Allbritton Communications Co.

Current policy holds public broadcasters liable for fines and other punishments for airing nudity and profanity before 10 p.m. As a result, companies have been sanctioned for brief, accidental nudity and curse words uttered on a live awards show.

Cable programming is not included because people must subscribe to it.

The FCC policy proposal follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that overturned some of its indecency fines.

The agency’s next steps are to review the comments and prepare a recommendation to the commissioners, a FCC spokesman said Friday.

Separately, the FCC is awaiting a Senate vote on Thomas Wheeler, President Obama’s nominee for FCC chairman.

Mr. Obama also recently nominated Mike O’Rielly, a staff member of Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, to fill a vacancy on the commission. There are currently two Democrats and a Republican on the five-person commission.

Senate Republicans are expected to hold up Mr. Wheeler’s vote until they are ready to address Mr. O’Rielly’s nomination as well.

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