Obama Administration Asks Supreme Court To Determine If FCC Can Fine ABC For Showing Charlotte Ross Naked

from the questions-of-our-time dept

There have been a series of legal questions concerning the FCC's right to fine TV companies for "indecency" on broadcast television. If you haven't been playing along with the home game, hopefully this will catch you up. While the FCC didn't do much in the way of fines for TV for a while, over the past decade, it suddenly took an interest (mainly under the leadership of former boss Kevin Martin). So, it issued fines over things like some "fleeting expletives" during awards shows (rockers saying "fuck!" on live TV), Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction and NYPD Blue's decision to display actress Charlotte Ross's bare behind in a shot. Back in 2007, the Second Circuit appeals court ruled that the FCC's rules on fleeting expletives were invalid because they were arbitrary and capricious. The Supreme Court, however, reversed, saying that the rules didn't seem all that arbitrary or capricious at all. However, none of those rulings touched on the First Amendment questions. Instead, they just focused on the validity of the FCC's rules in general.

So, now all of these cases are making their way through the courts again, with the Second Circuit again rejecting the FCC's fines in both the fleeting expletives case and the NYPD Blue case, stating that even if the rules are not arbitrary and capricious, they do violate the First Amendment, and create a chilling effect on speech. The ruling on fleeting expletives was especially good, and was clearly written with the Supreme Court in mind, knowing that it would almost certainly hear this case, eventually.

Some had thought that the Obama Justice Department might just let this matter drop, as it wasn't a huge concern. However, it has now petitioned the Supreme Court to review both cases, and to support the FCC's right to censor broadcast TV.

Of course, as the Second Circuit made clear in its ruling, the whole purpose of the FCC issuing such fines is outdated and silly. It was based on the fact that only the TV networks could really reach such a wide audience and thus had to be carefully monitored. In this digital era with the internet, does it really matter if someone hears a stray curse on TV? It's just as likely that they'll find much worse online. And, in fact, as we've pointed out, the FCC's action and subsequent lawsuits have driven a ton of views of the clip of Ross's bare butt online. In fact, at one point, it was one of the top videos on YouTube. That makes the whole FCC process seem pretty pointless if the idea is to try to "block" access to this content, doesn't it?

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  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 22 Apr 2011 @ 12:25pm

    The answer is clear

    Two Justices, one cup.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 22 Apr 2011 @ 12:41pm

    Yes, far worse: see 4chan.org/b.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AJ, 22 Apr 2011 @ 12:42pm

    Pr0n on TV!!?? Kill the Internets?

    If the Supreme Court finds that the FCC can't censor broadcast TV, and the Porn guys move in, what the hell will we use the internets for?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    el_segfaulto (profile), 22 Apr 2011 @ 12:44pm

    I remember when this happened, I was a lad in middle school and cannot tell you how scared I was from that episode. The act of seeing a human buttock on TV necessitated years of therapy and counseling and I'm only now getting reintegrated back into society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2011 @ 1:03pm

      Re:

      You're one of the lucky ones. My little brother died that day from seeing it. Our family will never be the same again.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2011 @ 1:15pm

    What the hell does this have to do with the president? Doesn't he have better things to do?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    weneedhelp (profile), 22 Apr 2011 @ 1:19pm

    Have some fun

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    FormerAC (profile), 22 Apr 2011 @ 2:21pm

    Hope and Change?

    Whoring for RIAA/MPAA.
    Bail outs.
    Censorship.
    Record deficits.

    Hate to quote her, but how's that hopey changey stuff workin out for ya?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2011 @ 3:27pm

    Censorship of the human body amounts to "i know i got one, i know you got got one, i know they got one, but if you dare attempt to confirm my knowledge with evidence i'll make sure your whole family goes bankrupt 5 times over."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Billy Wenge-Murphy (profile), 22 Apr 2011 @ 11:38pm

    And you wonder why the rest of the world thinks Americans are socially-backward cretins.

    Did you know that Scandinavians have no problem with bare butts in media or even *gasp* ....BREASTS? You even see topless women in advertising. It's madness! It's some kind of sick perversion, much like their socialized medicine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    slander (profile), 23 Apr 2011 @ 3:46am

    Huh?

    Wait - what rocker said "fuck" on TV? I don't remember that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    abc gum, 23 Apr 2011 @ 9:16am

    Apparently, OTA TV is only suited for Leave It To Beaver reruns and Dancing With The Stars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Cynthia Meyers (profile), 23 Apr 2011 @ 10:19am

    Protecting children from pervasive waves

    The rationale behind the limitation on broadcasters' First Amendment rights originates in an impulse to "protect" children. When broadcasting was a new technology, many were upset that "pervasive" waves could penetrate their homes, that they had no control over what was carried on those waves. The fear that children could be exposed to harmful broadcasts was eventually crystallized in the Pacifica case, in which WBAI had to pay a fine for airing George Carlin's monologue about dirty words because a listener claimed his teenage son overheard it. Of course, how children are ever harmed by indecency has never been proven!

    The indecency regulations also arose when broadcasters had a monopoly over spectrum. Competition from cable programming, not to mention online media, make that concern over monopoly control moot. And broadcasters now complain that they cannot compete effectively with other media with full First Amendment rights--having to constantly second guess when the FCC will enforce indecency regulations.

    Really, it's a classic case of old media standards (and old moral panics about a formerly new technology) hanging on well past relevancy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    R.H. (profile), 23 Apr 2011 @ 4:20pm

    Just trying to get a Supreme Court decision?

    I'm hoping that the administration is just trying to get a Supreme Court decision one way or another so that this issue will be settled once and for all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 24 Apr 2011 @ 4:42am

    The Supreme Court, however, reversed, saying that the rules didn't seem all that arbitrary or capricious at all.

    How are they not arbitrary? They try to fine ABC for showing a bare butt after 8PM, but yet Baywatch, which aired in syndication for most of its life (meaning it was usually on at around 4-6PM on the weekends) could show women in thong bathing suits? They tried to fine the network over Janet Jackson's bare breast, but yet I remember watching one of those network miniseries about World War I that showed full frontal nudity in some of the concentration camp scenes.

    If that isn't the definition of "arbitrary", I don't know what is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Overcast (profile), 25 Apr 2011 @ 7:06am

    When you are the head of a police-state, this is what you ARE SUPPOSED to be doing!

    Indeed, someone needs to be making decisions for us, that's the way it should be.

    FREEDOM = SLAVERY, after all.

    And War is Peace too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    chris, 25 Apr 2011 @ 7:10am

    Well, if the FCC can't impose fines how are they supposed to act as a regulatory body? I think the reasoning is that since the networks have exclusive use of a chunk of radio spectrum which has to be licensed from the FCC, it could come with some strings. Same as for radio. Also, those that saw the clip on Youtube knew full well what they were getting. Your comparing apples to oranges. On the other hand, I have no doubt that such regulations *will* end up being enforced randomly. Whether that means we should dump them altogether is something I'm undecided about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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