The Supreme Court has unanimously (8-0, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor recusing herself from the case) decided that television and radio can not be subject to outrageous fines and penalties that are levied due to cursing or nudity on the airwaves. While the Supreme Court may have sided for free speech, the standards for culture will still be determined by the American people. In their decision, the Court did not outlaw the Federal Communications Commission Indecency Policy, but rather confirmed that fines levied by the FCC are out of line. From the AP:
But the justices declined to issue a broad ruling on the constitutionality of the FCC’s indecency policy. Instead, the court concluded only that broadcasters could not have known in advance that obscenities uttered during awards show programs and a brief display of nudity on an episode of ABC’s “NYPD Blue” could give rise to penalties. ABC and 45 affiliates were hit with proposed fines totaling nearly $1.24 million. The justices said the FCC is free to revise its indecency policy, which is intended to keep the airwaves free of objectionable material during the hours when children are likely to be watching.
SCOTUS made a great call. It is unreasonable to assume that a television or radio network can cover all possible eventualities regarding what might happen on a live broadcast. Those who think Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake planned their breast-bearing appearance during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII could have a case about indecency if they could prove the conspiracy, but they haven’t. Mistakes happen. Slips of the tongue happen. The FCC should not be empowered to force massive fines for these mistakes.
However, the SCOTUS decision should not be seen as an opening to do whatever one wants on the airwaves. The standards by which we accept content are not defined by the FCC, they are defined by the American people. They are defined by ratings and box office returns. They are defined by the radio programs that succeed, and the radio networks that fail. Politics is downstream of culture. Said another way, politicians make decisions based on where the electorate points them. Corporations suffer when they create products or marketing campaigns that don’t work with American culture (most recently, look at Adidas and their shackle shoe.)
America will continue to set the standard of what they see on TV. Shows like GCB (originally titled ‘Good Christian Bitches’) didn’t last a season. Movies like The Blind Side (a movie about the value of family, love and giving) do great at the box office, and win Academy Awards.
SCOTUS made the right decision, and the FCC can revise all of the policies they wish. Content is downstream of the viewer. The people decide the standard.