Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Protecting Free Speech or lazy vocabularies?

Via the NYT - Court Rebuffs F.C.C. on Fines for Indecency
If President Bush and Vice President Cheney can blurt out vulgar language, then the government cannot punish broadcast television stations for broadcasting the same words in similarly fleeting contexts.

That, in essence, was the decision on Monday, when a federal appeals panel struck down the government policy that allows stations and networks to be fined if they broadcast shows containing obscene language.

Although the case was primarily concerned with what is known as “fleeting expletives,” or blurted obscenities, on television, both network executives and top officials at the Federal Communications Commission said the opinion could gut the ability of the commission to regulate any speech on television or radio.
It does legitimately seem to me that the networks have no control over what guests in particular say on a live broadcast. The only way to be sure that the networks control what is being broadcast would be to ditch truly live broadcasts all together and always have at least a few seconds lag time to allow the censors to press their little buzzers.

There are more issues here than just fleeting expletives, however.
The case involved findings that the networks had violated the indecency rules for comments by Cher and Nicole Richie on the Billboard Music Awards, the use of expletives by the character Andy Sipowicz on “NYPD Blue” and a comment on “The Early Show” by a contestant from CBS’s reality show “Survivor.”

The commission did not issue fines in any of the cases because the programs were broadcast before the agency changed its policy. But the networks were concerned about the new interpretation of the rules, particularly since the agency has been issuing a record number of fines.

Two years ago, Congress increased the potential maximum penalty for each indecency infraction to $325,000, from $32,500. Producers and writers have complained that the prospect of stiff fines had begun to chill their creative efforts.
Okay, if we are a country that believes in free speech, then certain forms of speech shouldn't potentially cost $325,000 (with the exception of liable, etc.). However, to say that the fact that they can't just use any expletive they please has "begun to chill their creative efforts" seems like something of a cop out to me. And I'm not really sure what makes the use of expletives so creative. I use them from time to time, but in reality they are simply a sign of a lazy vocabulary in most cases.

Ultimately, the government should not be able to regulate free speech. Particularly, if they are not imposing the same regulations on cable and satellite networks I'm not sure why they should be able to impose them on "network" television, whatever that means anymore.

Ultimately, if we are a liberal society, in the traditional meaning of the term, we will be good consumers and vote with our time and money. If the majority of people do not want to hear "bad words" during prime time, then the shows that use them will lose viewers and be taken off the air. If that is what people want to hear, then it is not really the government's place to stop them. I don't like a lot of what is on T.V. these days. I think most all shows that come on the network channels during prime time are inappropriate for children, even the shows that come on kids' channels for that matter. But if I feel that way, it is my responsibility to see to it that they don't watch it. If I'm not willing to do that, then no one is really to blame but me.

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