Short takes on FCC v. Fox opinion

Thursday, June 21, 2012

You’ll find Gene Policinski’s analysis of FCC v. Fox Television here, but here are some quick hits on today’s decision:

  • In a case full of fleeting expletives, the U.S. Supreme Court remained discreet. In its written opinion today,  profanities are supplanted by references to the “S-word” and the “F-word,” in addition to strategically placed asterisks. Is this a clue as to how potent the Court thinks these words are?
  • The justices showed their age in the opinion when they describe Cher as a singer, but seemed to have no idea what Nicole Richie does for a living (“a person named Nicole Richie.”) Then again, they’re not alone.
  • The Supreme Court’s decision provides an overview of the often-erratic application of the FCC’s indecency restrictions. It’s interesting to note that in 1987, the FCC announced that it would enforce indecency restrictions for “a broader range” of content than just George Carlin’s dirty words. It’s not a coincidence that this came in the wake of congressional hearings into the content of rock and rap records. 1987 also marked a more aggressive era in rap, with both Ice-T and Public Enemy issuing their debut albums.
  • It’s almost quaint to read the Court’s recap of FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, the 1978 decision upholding the FCC’s right to regulate indecency on television and radio. In that opinion, the Court noted that “broadcast media have established a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of all Americans” and that “broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children.” Digital media have made those observations badly outdated, with tens of millions of Americans watching video via the Web and even very small children engaging with online content on their parents’  iPads and computers.

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