The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up its first broadcast decency case in 30 years.
The court will decide whether the federal government can ban "fleeting expletives" uttered on live broadcast television during hours when children are likely to be watching. The ruling may establish once and for all how much the viewing public will be exposed to profanity on the broadcast TV networks.
For many years, the Federal Communications Commission did not usually enforce prohibitions against indecent language, unless there were repeated occurences.
But the commission changed the rules after several celebrities used profanity during awards programs in 2002 and 2003. The FCC contends that it has the authority to deem any part of a broadcast obscene or indecent, even if the speech included in the program is unscripted. The agency does not have any authority over the Internet or cable television.
Carter G. Phillips, attorney for Fox Television in the case, has said his clients want to be treated the same way as cable TV or the Internet.
The National Religious Broadcasters and faith-based media watchdog groups have argued that loose standards would hurt society.
"The welfare of America, its families and its youth will be detrimentally affected by electronic mass communications which contain unrestrained indecency, whether in language or imagery," the NRB wrote in a press release.
The Parents Television Council has warned that unless the Supreme Court clamps down on expletives, public airwaves will not only have a greater frequency of profanity, but more harsh language.
In a recent study, the PTC found that in 1998 the F-word aired only one time on prime time broadcast TV. But last year the word appeared 1,147 times on prime time broadcast TV in 184 different programs.
"Our results show that when an expletive is introduced on television, usage of the word becomes commonplace in fairly short order," explained PTC president Tim Winter. "Then the broadcast networks feel the need to up the ante with even more offensive profanity.
"The result is that there is a significant increase in the overall use of profanity on the public airwaves, and an escalation in the offensiveness of the words used," he continued.
Last June, a federal appeals court in New York, ruled that Commission's new standard for defining decency was "arbitrary and capricious." The FCC appealed the ruling in the case that is now before the Supreme Court.
"If we can't restrict the use of the words during prime time, Hollywood will be able to say anything they want, whenever they want," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said following the appeals court decision.
The case is FCC v. Fox Television Stations.
Sources: CBN News, Christian Post