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Is FCC 'running wild' with its big fines for 'fleeting expletives'?

A court has ruled that the FCC has to reconsider its fines for unplanned expletives blurted out on live broadcasts. The ruling comes as media experts debate whether the FCC should have a role in the Internet world.

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“We are in one of those major transitions that history has seen, as big as the shift from before and after the invention of movable type by Gutenberg,” says Shaffer, “and the government and corporate powers that control these things won’t give up easily.”

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But family advocate groups such as the Parents Television Council say the discussion is not so complicated. “We are talking about the reasonable expectation of families when they tune into a major event such as the Super Bowl or an awards show during prime time,” says Dan Isett, director of the group’s public policy.

“Poll after poll of the American people suggests that the vast majority of the country is concerned about the growing amount of profanity and vulgar material on television,” says Mr. Isett, explaining that he does not see any issues with the First Amendment. “We are not talking about all speech, we are only talking about the hours when children could be expected to be watching. Broadcasters can air what they like after 10 o’clock.”

While these considerations may dictate the short-term decisions by the FCC and Congress, the future is clear, say those who consider extending FCC authority to the Internet a non-starter. Diversity, localism and competition – formerly reasons to regulate broadcast – no longer apply in an Internet-enabled world where consumers may pick their preferred content.

“Internet-delivered video – relying on a technology that eliminates previous barriers to free speech, and makes the free press even more accessible to and by all – should, arguably, remain free of unnecessary regulations that were uniquely intended for the environment of legacy video platforms,” writes Jonathan Askin, an Associate Professor of Clinical Law at Brooklyn Law School.

In the interim, adds Terrence Oved, a New York attorney who specializes in media issues, it is valuable to appreciate that we as a society have always recognized the need for regulations.

“We decide what we want to promote – for instance, we do not wish to further cocaine use so we make laws about that and any number of other social values we wish to further.”

What’s important, he says, is to make sure we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. “The Talmud says, ‘asking the right question is half the answer’.”