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Flood of TV profanity? High court to decide

WASHINGTON (BP)–The stream of profanity and nudity on broadcast television could soon become a flood if the Supreme Court finds the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency policy “unconstitutionally vague” during its next session, says the Parents Television Council.

“If there’s no rule against [foul language or nudity] then it stands to reason that there’s going to be more of it,” said Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council, regarding the possible end of the FCC’s indecency policy.

This upcoming case follows the Supreme Court’s decision in April 2009 that, in a 5-4 decision, sided with the FCC and conservative groups in up

ing the FCC’s authority to prohibit certain indecent language on broadcast television.

However, that case only examined whether the FCC had violated federal statutes and did not deal with the constitutionality of the regulations. When the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the FCC’s policy, Justice Clarence Thomas — one of the more conservative judges who voted with the majority — wrote that he might rule against the FCC in a future case if it involved First Amendment issues.

In July 2010, those First Amendment issues were examined, and the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s indecency policy for failing to give broadcasters fair warning of what they were not allowed to air. The Second Circuit ruled that the standards regarding offensive language were “unconstitutionally vague.”

The case regarding the indecency policy’s constitutionality was appealed to the Supreme Court, which announced at the end of its term in April that it would consider whether or not the FCC’s indecency policy violates the First or Fifth Amendment.

The upcoming case will deal with both the fleeting expletives from the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards, which aired on Fox, and an episode of NYPD Blue in 2003 aired on ABC where a woman was shown partially nude.

Isett said he saw no violations to the First Amendment in the FCC’s policy because broadcasters can air indecent material as long as it is after 10 p.m. — when most children are safely tucked into bed.

However, if the FCC’s indecency policy is found unconstitutional in the fall, Isett said, broadcasters will have no limits on airing profanity, nudity and other indecent material.

“ABC could legally become HBO,” Isett told Baptist Press.

Families who want to keep their children away from vulgar material do have another option, said Dwayne Hastings, vice president at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He suggests families eliminate television from their lives entirely and return to more wholesome forms of entertainment.

“No matter which way the court rules, there is great value for parents and children alike to turn off the television, put away the video games and open a good book or their Kindle and refuse to let Hollywood hijack their entertainment options,” Hastings said.

But protecting children from inappropriate material goes beyond the entertainment parents allow. Hastings said parents should be active, informed voters because who leads the government shapes America’s future, including the nation’s entertainment industry.

“While we should not place our hope in our government or those in Washington, we ought to appreciate the reality that without Christ-followers engaging in local, state and national civic affairs, our society will continue to slide further and further into a darkened state,” Hastings said. “The votes of Bible-believing Americans matter. When we decline to get involved, when we sit out elections, when we don’t pay attention to what is going on in our nation’s capital or our states’ capitals, we can be assured that families will pay the price — for a long time to come.”

The influx in TV profanity has resulted in some companies creating products to assist parents. One company, TVGuardian, sells a device that mutes foul language on television. Another company, ClearPlay, sells a DVD player that mutes bad language and also skips objectionable scenes on DVD movies.
Whitney Jones is a student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and is an intern with Baptist Press.

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