Family Research Council

Keep the public airwaves clean

By Tony Perkins


Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council. This article appeared in USA Today on June 21, 2012.


The Supreme Court's decision in Federal Communications Commission v. Fox was a mixed bag for families. Broadcasters had challenged several FCC decisions on "fleeting" instances of indecent speech and nudity. In the narrowly written, unanimous opinion, the justices overturned the FCC's enforcement actions on the grounds that it had acted without giving broadcasters "fair notice" that fleeting expletives and nudity violated indecency rules.

I am disappointed by this aspect of the ruling. Any adult who broadcasts on the public airwaves should be able to figure out what shouldn't be shown or said in other people's homes.

However, the big story was that the Supreme Court affirmed the indecency rules by ignoring, as it had in the past, broadcaster entreaties to declare them unconstitutional. It also vacated a far-out appeals court decision that did strike down the indecency rules. In fact, going forward the FCC will be able to impose fines on the networks, with the court's blessing, if they broadcast fleeting expletives or brief nude shots.

The broadcasters' position is something akin to a person who wants to shout obscenities or walk partially clad down a public sidewalk or in front of a school. To be sure, there are important First Amendment interests to protect, but reasonable people can agree there have to be boundaries.

The public airwaves are just that - public. The networks are licensed to use them with a moral and legal obligation to provide the public with decent content. The American people overwhelmingly agree.

In January, a Rasmussen Reports poll of 1,000 Americans showed that 64% favored FCC regulations of "profanity, violence and sexual content on TV and radio." Only 24% were opposed, and 11% were undecided.

And a little over a year ago, a survey for the Parents Television Council showed 75% of adults agree "that there is too much sex, violence and coarse language on television."

Keeping the public airwaves clean is not a heavy burden for those whose television and radio licenses provide them with substantial profits.

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Tony Perkins President

Tony Perkins is President of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is (Full Bio)

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