HOWEVER disgusting certain radio and television broadcasts can be, government censorship of programming is an extremeresponse. Yet the Federal Communications Commission, in the name of protecting children, has voted to step up its efforts to control what Americans may see or hear on the air. The government already can ban material broadcast from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. that it brands "indecent." The FCC is now attempting to extend the same authority to ban "indecent" programs around the clock. But the same basic objection to governmental intervention in private viewing habits remains, as does the same confusion about what broadcasts the commission might designate as "indecent."
Could the screening of such topical and popular programs as "L.A. Law" or 'thirtysomething'' expose broadcasters to FCC fines? Would Uncle Sam step in to cut out certain segments of Oprah, Geraldo or Phil? The answer from FCC general counsel Robert L. Pettit doesn't tell you much. "It's impossible to say in the abstract," he said. "We'd have to see it first and judge it on a case-by-case, complaint-by-complaint basis." That makes it extremely difficult for a private broadcaster, operating, after all, on government license, to know just what the FCC will approve and what it won't.
We speak for an organization with a direct interest in broadcasting, but we do not think that only those with this background will be concerned with the extent and manner of government control of information and entertainment. It is a matter of overwhelming general concern. Is government a good judge of what people should be allowed to see and hear? Should Uncle Sam be the household arbiter of what kids see on television after, or for that matter before, 8 p.m.? And since cable programs aren't covered by any of this, what's the difference? Is it simply the protection of those children whose families are unwilling or unable to pay for cable?
There is another response to "indecent" radio or television programs that beats government intervention and that has been tested and is known to work. It's called public pressure, and it can be organized by any listeners or viewers who may be repelled by certain programs. One of the best ways to apply such pressure requires no adjustment to your set, only a firm poke of the "Off" button.