B&C suggested back in March that broadcasters might have to start pixelating the mouths of anyone uttering profanity over the air to ensure they don’t run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission’s standards of broadcast indecency.
The double prophylactic of bleeping profanity and pixelating the source of the utterance seemed to be the logical conclusion to the indecency "guidance" that the FCC had just handed down in the judgment passed on The WB’s Surreal Life 2. The commission decided that pixelating sexual organs that appeared during a party scene in the reality show was insufficient since "it is unmistakable that partygoers are exposing and discussing sexual organs."
By that measure, we reasoned, if it is "unmistakable" that someone is saying the F-word, even if it is bleeped out, then the FCC could throw a flag on the play. Well, Fox started digitally obscuring potty mouths on all of its programs, and PBS told its stations in May that program producers should do likewise for profanity airing before 10 p.m.
PBS President Paula Kerger has awoken to the absurdity, announcing at the Television Critics Association press tour last week that she would rethink the policy after having met with FCC commissioners and come away with "no clear guidance."
For its part, the commission, through an unnamed official, says it has previously found bleeping to be sufficient and that it has never fined anyone who has bleeped bad words. Nor has it stated that the Surreal Life ruling will be a precedent for adjudicating bleeped profanity.
We’re told by an FCC official that Chairman Kevin Martin has let it be known that networks are free to pixelate mouths if they believe it is in the interest of protecting children. However, they needn’t do it "on the FCC’s account."