By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/14/2006 8:00:00 PM
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Recent FCC Fines Confuse
Two challenges point up inconsistencies in the war on indecency
If the recent proposed fines were supposed to give broadcasters more-consistent guidance on the FCC's definition of indecency, they failed miserably. Not surprisingly, that's the early response from those who were fined.
In opposition to the proposed fine on Without a Trace, CBS, filing on behalf of its stations, pointed out that, while its episode dealing with “sex and substance abuse among unsupervised teens” was fined for indecency, an Oprah Winfrey show episode that included, by the FCC's own admission “highly graphic and explicit” discussion of teen sexual practices, was found blameless. Maintaining that the two were “indistinguishable” for purposes of indecency analysis, CBS argued that suggesting that the treatment of teenage sexuality was “not necessary to the storyline” in Without a Trace but was necessary to the discussion on Oprah, the commission's ruling discriminates among speakers, programs and subject matter.
In its challenge to the fine on PBS blues documentary Godfathers and Sons, the San Mateo County Community College District, licensee of KCSM, took the same tack, pointing out that, whereas the cussing in entertainment program Saving Private Ryan was found by the FCC in an earlier decision not to be profane, the agency nonetheless proposed fining “an acclaimed documentary that contains language no different for purposes of the indecency rule from that used in Saving Private Ryan.”
Both challenges suggest that the FCC's inconsistency calls into question its entire authority to regulate indecency at all—not what the commission had in mind when it released the actions March 15.
Discrimination Isn't All Bad
Backers of strong “network-neutrality” language in telecom legislation lurching through Congress decry discrimination against content and its providers in the broadband-service provision. They argue that giving networks that power will create Internet disparities and an information toll road on which behemoth companies will steamroll entrepreneurs trying to hatch the next Google.
But discrimination isn't necessarily bad, says Verizon Executive VP Tom Tauke. Broadband networks, he says, “discriminate” in providing tiered services. He equates that with offering new and innovative broadband services.
Plenty of businesses pay for more bandwidth and more-secure services, he says, noting that hospitals use virtual private networks instead of relying on the public Internet.
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