Supreme Court case tests FCC’s power to police TV indecency

January 9, 2012

By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post

LOS ANGELES — Researchers at the Parents Television Council have helpful drop-down menus on their computers loaded with just about every profanity and dirty slang term imaginable.

They are handy shortcuts — there are additional ones for violent and sexual content — as the nonprofit group’s headphone-wearing analysts monitor every network prime-time entertainment broadcast for offensive language, bleeped profanity, flashes of nudity, threesomes and gore.

The council documents the increasing coarseness of television broadcasts to rate shows and pressure advertisers and provides a one-click process for supporters to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. More than 1.4 million complaints are pending.

But the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday about whether the FCC should still have a role in policing the nation’s airwaves or whether its indecency regulations violate guarantees of free speech and due process.

The networks have argued successfully in lower courts that in a revolutionized world in which they exist “side by side” with cable channels that are beyond the FCC’s regulation, singling them out is not only nonsensical but unconstitutional.

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