The #%$& FCCs Obscenity-Laden War on Obscenity

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin took the debate over appropriate content to a new level with a prepared statement in defense of censorship that was actually more obscenity-laden than the event that the FCC is sanctioning.

WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission has taken the debate over appropriate content in broadcasting to a new level. In a response to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin released a statement this weekend that was actually more obscenity-laden than the event that the FCC is sanctioning.

"The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said the use of the words f*** and s*** by Cher and Nicole Ritchie was not indecent," Martin said in his rebuttal to the courts finding June 4 that the FCCs fines against the Fox network in which the two women used those words (modified here by eWEEK to preserve our own decency) during a live broadcast of the Golden Globe awards show were unwarranted.

"I completely disagree with the courts ruling and am disappointed for American families. I find it hard to believe that the New York court would tell American families that s*** and f*** are fine to say on broadcast television during the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience."

The Appeals Court struck down the FCC sanction against Fox, citing the commissions recent reversal on the position of "fleeting expletives" uttered during a live program and said the agency failed to notify networks or explain its decision.

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In the past, the commission has found that brief statements of normally prohibited words, especially when said without sexual or obscene intent, were not indecent. The FCC had recently decided they were, the court found, but failed to alert broadcasters of the change.

"The court even says the commission is divorced from reality." Martin said in his statement. "It is the New York court, not the commission, that is divorced from reality in concluding that the word f*** does not invoke a sexual connotation."

"If ever there was an appropriate time for commission action, this was it," Martin said in his prepared statement. "If we cant prohibit the use of the words f*** and s*** during prime time, Hollywood will be able to say anything they want, whenever they want."

Martin then went on to quote Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as well as Cher and others known for their expertise on indecent language. Martin closed his response with a call for a la carte cable programming, saying that this would allow parents to restrict what their children watch.

FCC spokesman David Fiske, when asked whether the FCC was planning an appeal, said that the commission is considering its options. While the finding only applies to the Second Circuit, which includes New York, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court could have national implications for the FCC, not only in regards to its fight against indecency but also in its ability to change the manner in which it applies its Congressional mandate.

Commissioner Michael Copps, in a separate prepared statement last week, agreed with Martin, but avoided the use of obscenities. "The FCC has a duty to find a way to breathe life into the laws that protect our kids. That may entail an appeal of this decision. Certainly it includes strong enforcement action of the many indecency complaints before us that are untouched by todays decision."

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...