The Supreme Court heard arguments today in FCC v. Fox Television Stations.
Associated Press reports:
The dispute between the broadcast networks and the Federal Communications Commission is the court's first major broadcast indecency case in 30 years.
At issue is the FCC's policy, adopted in 2004, that even a one-time use of profanity on live television is indecent because some words are so offensive that they always evoke sexual or excretory images. So-called fleeting expletives were not treated as indecent before then.
In a new column, Reason Foundation's Steven Titch discusses the case:
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin has sided with content watchdog groups like the Parents Television Council, who want the government to "do something" about what they see as the growing coarseness of television and radio content. Martin has also made no secret of his desire to expand his power to include cable and satellite, where the laws of broadcast decency don't apply. No regulatory body likes to see its influence diminished, but about 85 percent of Americans now subscribe to cable or satellite television services.
To these Americans, there's little distinction between over-the-air broadcast, cable and satellite service. Retaining different content rules for broadcast outlets, because they use a big antenna to broadcast entertainment, is arbitrary and capricious. The FCC would like the decency laws that apply to over-the-air broadcasters to be applied to cable and satellite. The opposite is true. In this day and age government should not have any role at all in regulating content.
It's not the government's job to be the guardian of taste or a filter against coarseness. People choose to have televisions in their homes. And if you make that choice, it is your responsibility to monitor what your kids watch. Martin and the nanny staters might not like to hear it, but with hundreds of TV and radio channels, the bulk of the responsibility for content control falls on to the individual household. The tools are available and easy to use. As a parent of a 5-year-old I can sympathize with the challenge but attest to its being the most effective solution.
Read the whole column here.
Today's Associated Press story explains that Chief Justice John Roberts supported the FCC's policy, while Justice John Paul Stevens seemed to be skeptical of the commission's policy. Ultimately, AP reports, "It was hard to tell where the court is heading because three justices – Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas – said little or nothing."