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.
“Today, broadcasting is neither uniquely pervasive nor uniquely accessible to children, yet broadcasters are still denied the same basic First Amendment freedoms as other media,” Washington lawyer Carter G. Phillips, who represents Fox and other networks,
told the court in a brief.
“To the average American viewer, broadcasting is just one source among hundreds in a media-saturated environment, a mere press of a button on the remote control away from other, fully protected sources,” he wrote.
The Obama administration is defending the FCC’s powers. If anything, it told the court, the new media world requires continued federal oversight of the public airwaves to provide a haven for parents and children from the anything-goes world of cable and the Internet.
“Generations of parents have relied on indecency regulation to safeguard broadcast television as a relatively safe medium for their children,” U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. wrote in the government’s brief.
The “uniquely pervasive” language in Fox’s brief comes from the Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, in which it upheld the commission’s decision that an afternoon radio broadcast of comedian George Carlin’s 1973 monologue about words that could not be said on television violated indecency standards.
The court found that the FCC was within constitutional boundaries to police the radio and television airwaves during the times children would probably be listening, which was interpreted between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Parents Television Council President Tim Winter said that even though nearly nine of 10 households have cable, broadcast channels remain paramount: The lion’s share of the country’s most watched shows reside there, commanding the most money from advertisers and bringing the highest salaries to the stars and producers.