Washington

FCC Keeps Its Eyes on the Ball

Looks to swear off Super Bowl indecency, focus on broadband 2/11/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

When the Baltimore Ravens’ winning quarterback
Joe Flacco swore on CBS’ air at the end of
the Super Bowl, it propelled the FCC into a different,
if familiar, kind of game. But the commission under Julius
Genachowski seems intent on dodging the
pressure to resume its crackdown on indecency
and spank broadcasters, and instead
keep its attention focused on broadband.

The case of indecency déjà vu all over
again came as CBS’ coverage of the big
game sparked the ire of the Parents Television
Council for a fleeting indecency, à la Janet
Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl. In this
case, it was for a couple of profanities in a
postgame celebration, one of which echoed
Bono’s profanity at the Golden Globes a decade
ago that, combined with the Jackson
incident, fueled the FCC crackdown.

A CBS source said the network had not
received many complaints about the broadcast,
but the PTC was planning an online
effort to ramp up that number.

The current FCC has spent several years defending previous
efforts to regulate fleeting nudity and profanity. But last
September, the commission dropped its pursuit of Fox over
nonpayment of a 2003 indecency fine for Married by America,
dismissing a suit in D.C. District court.

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fox v. FCC,
the Commission is reviewing its indecency enforcement policy
to ensure the agency carries out Congress’ directive in a manner
consistent with vital First Amendment principles,” Genachowski
said at the time. “In the interim, I have directed the Enforcement
Bureau to focus its resources on the strongest cases that
involve egregious indecency violations. We also will continue to
reduce the backlog of pending indecency complaints.”

According to sources, the chairman’s point was not that the
FCC was going to focus on indecency, but that it was only going
to pursue complaints in extreme cases,
similar to the commission’s comparatively
hands-off policy prior to the ’04 Super Bowl.

The Supreme Court last June vacated a
Second Circuit decision that the FCC’s indecency
enforcement regime as applied to
swearing and nudity on Fox and ABC TV
stations was unconstitutional, but concluded
that the FCC did not give broadcasters
sufficient notice. Chief Justice John Roberts
suggested the commission has now served
notice and can enforce its policy.

Genachowski, however, would much
rather focus on broadband, not broadcasting,
decent or indecent.

At presstime, there was no groundswell
of attention on the Hill or elsewhere in
Washington circles to the swearing by
Flacco. By contrast, the Janet Jackson Super Bowl reveal dominated
water-cooler conversations in Washington for weeks.

While the Super Bowl is a giant klieg light, a series of profanities
on live sports and other programming has made it to
air without repercussions at the FCC, including Jane Fonda’s
2008 slip on the Today show while discussing the play The
Vagina Monologues
, as well as the occasional NFL or NASCAR
slip-up. NASCAR did once fine Dale Earnhardt Jr. $10,000
for an s-word uttered in victory lane at Talladega Motor
Speedway, a penalty that actually dropped the driver from
first to second place in the standings late in the season.

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