Content Discontent - Broadcasting & Cable

Content Discontent

Broadcasters are increasingly calling for more leeway from the government on indecency
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jeggerton@nbmedia.com | @eggerton

Broadcasters are clearly chafing at their content regulation bit just a bit. It makes sense. They are under indecency restrictions that do not apply to any of their principal competitors, while they are trying to figure out how to remain competitive in a world careering toward mobile broadband video and pushing the content boundaries on cable and online.


Why This Matters
How the FCC regulates indecency is key to how broadcasters must compete with their edgier, Emmyladen cable competitors.

This month, broadcast TV writers sent the clear signal that they want to have the same kind of freedom that gets cable dramas all the accolades at Emmy time by, to a large degree, offering the edgy fare that would normally draw the ire and complaints of groups such as the Parents Television Council were it on broadcast TV. Writers asked that the FCC drop indecency regulations— at least in primetime.

Fox has always been all in on its indecency opposition. While broadcasters have historically pointed out that they are not really pushing the bounds even between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., where they could legally air anything short of fullon fornication—and probably that—Fox has recently launched some late-night animation that has a Comedy Central edginess. At least that’s how the PTC sees it.

The FCC is attempting to figure out how it should regulate indecency. (In one step in that direction, the commission recently backed off pursuing every fleeting jot and tittle.) Broadcasters have plenty of reasons why the FCC should get out of the national nanny business, as they see it.

View From the Trenches

Indecency Regulation as Racial Discrimination: The Writers Guild of America tells the FCC that it should phase out indecency regs because they are a form of discrimination. They point out that the commission ruled the swearing in Saving Private Ryan was not indecent, while naughty words in a documentary about the Blues—meaning “largely about African-American culture”—was in fact cited. That, said the WGA representative, suggests the regs might chill the exploration of diverse topics. Then there is the fact that the broadcast audience most affected by the regs skews minority, a point the ACLU made in its filing.

An Unfair Hearing: National Public Radio complains that the license renewal of Minnesota Public Radio’s KNOW-FM has been held up based on a 2010 listener’s mishearing of the word “flunked” in a segment about Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, even though the audio and transcript of the content in question have been available online since the program was broadcast.

Free at Last? Even the National Association of Broadcasters, which has historically not pushed too hard for total freedom—if that also means freedom from regulatory protections like must-carry and network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules—is putting more shoulder to the wheel. “The record shows the impossibility of making a principled argument that broadcasting is either the most likely or most easily available means of exposure,” the NAB says. “In this environment, the constitutionality of a broadcast-only prohibition on indecent material is increasingly in doubt.”

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