"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blows against the empire

It's rant time, folks.

To my utter delight, broadcast television stations are saying they have had enough, and are fighting back against the heavy-handed censorship imposed on them in the name of "decency" by the Federal Communications Commission. The major television networks and their affiliates are asking appeals courts to overturn decisions by regulators finding broadcasters violated so-called decency standards.

The Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC networks have filed suit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York to declare the decisions by the FCC unlawful. More than 800 other television network affiliates have joined the court efforts, including those of the Hearst-Argyle chain. The broadcasters say privately that this could become the test case long awaited by those who seek to challenge the government's ability to police the airwaves.

In the last several years, the government has slapped millions of dollars in fines against broadcast stations, including a record $550,000 for a single incident -- Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Other offenses have included an episode of "NYPD Blue" in which the word "shit" was used, and U2 frontman Bono's exclamation of the phrase "fucking brilliant" while accepting an award at the 2003 Golden Globes.

According to the Reuters article:
"The FCC overstepped its authority in an attempt to regulate content protected by the First Amendment, acted arbitrarily and failed to provide broadcasters with a clear and consistent standard for determining what content the government intends to penalize," the broadcasters said in a statement.
The key phrase above is "clear and consistent standard"; what is or is not considered acceptable to be aired these days is extremely unclear. There is one set of standards for over-the-air broadcast stations, another for cable-only networks, and yet another for pay-per-view and premium subscription services. Throw in "safe harbor" rulings that permit certain words during specific times of the day but not others, and the whole situation becomes very murky. Rules are enforced inconsistently, leaving program producers and stations unsure about exactly what might trigger the ire of the FCC.

Not surprisingly, the action does not sit well with the Parents Television Council, better known as "Uncle Taliban" for their unrelenting efforts to sanitize the airwaves by applying their own conservative religious and moral standards to TV programming. PTC President Brent Bozell called the lawsuit "shameless", further claiming, "The networks' principles have now been unmasked for everyone to see. Their actions today are indecent in and of themselves."

This bit of twisted logic comes from the organization singly responsible for approximately 95% of all complaints lodged with the FCC over matters of "decency". The PTC's founders would prefer that TV shows had never left the 1950's, when married couples slept in separate beds, Father Knew Best, and the strongest expletive ever uttered was "Gosh!". Their stated goal of "protecting children" may be noble, but it's misguided; responsibility for what children see is best left to parents, not the government. And I certainly don't want self-righteous watchdogs like the PTC or Donald Wildmon and the "American Family Association" telling stations what they should or should not broadcast. (The AFA regularly rails against the so-called "Homosexual Agenda", and thinks the greatest TV program ever made was "The Waltons".)

In my mind, there is no doubt that the FCC has exceeded its mandate and is clearly operating beyond its Constitutional limits. It's about time that stations stood up to the FCC, and I think it's also time for ordinary people like you and I to say that we are sick and tired of these conservative goons pushing their alleged "decency" standards on those of us who have enough brains to figure out for ourselves what is or isn't acceptable viewing in our own living rooms. Let's join newsman Howard Beale when he exorts us, in Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning 1976 movie "Network", to say, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more." There are enough lawyers, lobbyists and flacks in this country to ensure that "community standards" are self-enforcing. We don't need Uncle Taliban telling us what is obscene.

One final note: it is apparently a little-known fact that every single television set found in use today has a special built-in electronic device to prevent unwanted material from being viewed in the home.

It's called the "off" switch.

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