The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), tasked by Congress with the job of policing Federal laws governing obscenity, indecency and profanity on broadcast television and radio, is considering enforcement changes that would allow brief nudity and some isolated use of verbal expletives during prime-time hours, relaxing restrictions that have long been penalized bysevere fines. The proliferation of media outlets, coupled with an attendant increase in the variety of themes that enter the cultural mainstream as broadcasters vie for Americans’ eye and ears, has led to a massive backlog in complaints, which the FCC hasn’t been able to address as quickly as they’ve been pouring in. Retiring FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has posited a shift in the commission’s focus: one that would let slide commonplace or “fleeting” curse words, as well as brief nudity that’s not part of a sexual situation. Late last year, he ordered the commission’s enforcement arm to tackle the backlog by focusing only on “egregious” instances of indecency or profanity. Since that time, the commission has whittled its caseload down by 70 percent, or more than 1 million pending complaints.
For now, the idea hasn’t been implemented. But the effectiveness of relaxing the rules a bit on the enforcement side has prompted the FCC to “seek comment on whether the full Commission should make changes to its current broadcast indecency policies or maintain them as they are,” according to its April 1 announcement. The FCC is soliciting public comments on the topic through the commission’s Electronic Filing System; the comments of your fellow Americans are also available for viewing at the same address. Commenters can also mail their remarks before the closing date at the end of April. PLD