Geneva, Switzerland





Turn the FCC loose in Europe and the US National Debt Would Soon Become a Surplus

 By Philip M. Stone

For less than a split second of seeing Janet Jackson’s pierced nipple aired by CBS at the Super Bowl, the FCC fines the network $550,000. Gee, it makes one wonder how it would react watching the hardcore sex on France’s Canal Plus or the soft core sex that even some European public stations broadcast.

In Europe we might laugh at the Puritanical ethic that drives US broadcast law against sexual indecency. But it is no laughing matter. How Hollywood and the television networks react to the ever-increasing climate of higher indecency fines affects what we see here, too.  After all, European airwaves are full of American TV shows.

Hollywood has always known the European audience is more “mature” sexually than its US audiences. Back a few decades when NBC came up with the idea of producing cheap made-for-television movies the business plan called for two versions of the same film –one for US domestic television audiences – and then the same film with added sexual scenes for European audiences. The idea in those days was that the US made-for television movie would go into European movie theaters, but, the thinking went, that would be a hard sale without some added spice. 

That added spice is still not welcome by many influential US lobby groups like the American Family Association and the Parents Television Council. They bombard elected officials continually with emails to protect young eyes from seeing or hearing over the public airwaves “private parts” or “dirty words” and “lascivious banter”, or, for that matter, licking whipped cream off a body (the FCC just fined Fox $1.18 million for a television show that included scenes from a bachelor party which involved strippers and prostitutes; Radio DJ Howard Stern also got fined $1.8 million for indecency).  


How influential are those lobby groups? The US Senate voted 99-1 to increase fines per indecency incident more than 8-fold. The House of Representatives voted for even higher fines. What elected official in his/her right mind would vote against Parents and Family? That’s just too large a voting bloc!

Thankfully, Washington being Washington, other media regulations were attached to the fine-increase legislation, so even though the House and Senate agreed eventually on 10-fold increases in indecency fines, because they could not agree on other media measures that had been attached to the legislation the whole thing got thrown out.

But the mood in Washington is such that the Senate, not content with the public airwaves, unanimously voted to restrict violence on cable/satellite before 10 p.m., knowing full well that the US Supreme Court in 1994 specifically ruled that cable content was beyond the reach of the regulators.

It’s because  of that ruling that US producers can give us shows like the HBO-produced hit, The Sopranos, which has been sold around the world. No way could that show have been made under FCC guidelines without big-time language and nudity cuts. The HBO comedy sexual success, Sex and City, is going into US re-runs via the public airwaves, but only after massive cutting to get rid of the “dirty” parts.


And that is as good an example as any to illustrate how current FCC actions are going to affect global television. Look for Hollywood producers to tone down their language and sex scenes for television transmitted over the public airwaves. The networks are not going to take a chance that the FCC declares a program lewd. Might cable/satellite pick up the sexual  “slack”? Maybe, but with Congressional talk of trying to regulate cable/satellite programs they might want to lay low for a while. It might eventually take another Supreme Court decision to confirm who can control what as networks appeal against their FCC sanctions.

So, the net result of the FCC actions is that Hollywood and the television networks are basically running scared; television stations are also afraid of running afoul of the FCC – they don’t want fines and they don’t want a hard time when they apply to renew their licenses – so most live events, including news, now carry a few seconds time delay. No more nipples or dirty talk should get through! .

One point almost lost in all this. Of the 107 million US households that have at least one television, only about 12% rely on antennas – the public airwaves. Everyone else uses cable or satellite. 

© Philip M. Stone of  Stone & Associates, a partner in followthemedia.com


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