Fox Urges End to Broadcast Indecency Limits

Fox Television doesn't want the FCC looking over its shoulder anymore to police any nudity and curse words on its network.

The broadcaster filed a 42-page comment at the regulatory agency on Wednesday. This is what Fox has to say:

"Fox urges the Commission to conclude that it is legally required, and logically bound, to cease attempting to enforce broadcast indecency limits once and for all. Time and technology have marched inexorably forward, but the Commission’s untenable effort to define indecent content through a hodgepodge of inconsistent and uneven rulings remains stuck in a bygone era. Whatever validity may once have existed for indecency regulation, the time clearly has arrived to lay rest to the anachronistic notion that broadcast stations deserve anything less than the full First Amendment protection bestowed on all speakers by the Constitution."

The comment comes as the FCC is examining potential changes to its indecency regulation. In April, the federal agency asked the public for comments on whether it should maintain current protocol or change with the times. The review happens after the Supreme Court has addressed indecency regulation on several occasions in the past few years, including last year in a case involving curse words uttered by celebrities on live awards shows.

In a 2012 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy permitted the FCC to continue policing nudity and language but ruled that the FCC had violated broadcasters' due process rights by not giving sufficient notice about its policies. The ruling was a small win for broadcasters like Fox, but the big networks had hoped that the Supreme Court would go further by addressing a 1978 decision (Pacifica) which upheld the FCC's authority against a First Amendment challenge.

Despite and largely because of the ruling, the FCC is now considering its indecency stance. A call for opinions has provoked more than 100,000 filed comments from citizens. Further, potential changes in indecency regulation have been addressed at this week's Senate confirmation hearing of Tom Wheeler to lead the FCC.

At the hearing, Wheeler responded to a question on the topic by saying, "I’m old enough to when I see some things to kind of grit my teeth and say, ‘Is this what I want my grandkids to be seeing,’ whether it be violence or obscenity or indecency or whatever. As the same point in time, as you point out, the courts have been pretty specific and restrictive. I do believe, however, that is it possible to call upon our better angels with some leadership."

Now, Fox has interjected itself with its own opinion.

According to its filed comment, Fox wants "a regime that provides broadcasters with wide editorial discretion to select programming," and adds that "such a regime would permit the Commission to pursue indecency enforcement only if the subject matter of the broadcast content constitutes the equivalent of a highly graphic and sustained verbal or visual 'shock treatment.'"

The broadcaster gets even more specific by saying that the FCC "should confine its interest, at most, to content that indisputably includes an explicit portrayal of sexual or excretory organs or activities."

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That would mean no regulation of isolated or fleeting curse words or nudity and ambivalence to innuendo. Fox also demands that the FCC "owes it to broadcasters and the Supreme Court to dismiss whatever remains of the backlog of pending indecency cases."

Indecency monitors are lashing back at Fox for the filed comment.

For example, Parents Television Council president Tim Winter says in a statement that "Fox has the audacity to argue that the entire broadcast indecency law should be abolished. This is brought to you by the network that has aired scripted animated programs featuring a man masturbating a horse, a character eating excrement out of a baby’s diaper, and a baby eating a bowl of semen, just to name a few. Ask just about anyone who doesn’t get compensated by the broadcast networks and they’ll tell you that these scenes are patently offensive. Yet Fox wants the unfettered right to air this kind of content – or worse – at any time of day, even in front of children."

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