NRB Proposes Clarifications and Modifications to FCC Indecency Rules

Indecency RulesNRB has filed Comments with the FCC in response to its proposal to crack down only on the most “egregious” cases of indecency.

More than simply urging the Commission to improve and tighten its current indecency regulations for broadcasters, NRB proposed some specific clarifications and modifications to the Commission rules in its Comments, noting how "a diminishing of the civility and decency of discourse and imagery during children’s viewing hours will diminish families, children, and our culture, and will impair the public interest."

"Our members have a distinct, vested interest in preserving the quality and decency of content that is broadcast during children’s viewing hours," NRB stated in the Comments, filed Monday.  "Our broadcast stations and program producers, in effect, swim in the same waters as all other broadcasters. 'Pollution' at one end of the stream will affect all broadcasters, including ours."

In the Comments, NRB sets forth suggested language for necessary clarifications of the Commission’s indecency rules, including the reason the association believes that the Commission should reject the so-called “egregious cases” policy.

More specifically, the association says rules should be enforced against all indecency between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., not just the most outrageous kind.

“Our children are worth protecting, and that notion has been made clear by the Supreme Court,” says Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President & General Counsel for NRB.

Prior to filing the Comments this week, Parshall and NRB Vice President of Government Relations Aaron Mercer framed questions on the indecency rules for members of the Senate who quizzed Tom Wheeler during his confirmation hearing Tuesday. Wheeler is President Obama's pick for the next Chairman of the FCC.

Responding to those questions, Wheeler said he was concerned about filth on television and radio, but also implied that he would like to see more impetus from the broadcasters themselves to improve the airwaves. NRB's Comments filed with the FCC proposed that the Commission take into account the fact that the big networks' own guidelines currently counsel against airing indecent content. 

“Families with children need a media safe harbor,” adds Dr. Frank Wright, President & CEO of NRB. “From the standpoint of protecting children, there are already many dangers permitted in broadcast programs and ads. It would be egregious for the FCC to lower its standards more.”    

To help fend off First Amendment challenges, NRB also urged the FCC in its Comments to establish two narrow, very limited exceptions: one, a “live news” exception, would cover a “spontaneous utterance” of profanity; and the other would cover fleeting offensiveness that has "serious artistic, literary, social, political, or scientific value for children" – but only if the broadcaster gives adequate warnings and it can also show little chance that children for whom the program would not be age-appropriate might be in the listening or viewing audience.

“This,” Parshall explains, “would help to clarify past FCC rulings in these areas.”

“While our proposal could permit an image of unclothed bodies in a concentration camp as part of a World War II documentary intended for older teens and adults, or the strong language used in the Saving Private Ryan-type situation, this exception would not excuse broadcasters airing a live rock music program during the proscribed hours hosted by a celebrity for whom profanity is practically a second language,” Parshall says. “That latter case shouldn’t pass the ‘serious value’ test.”

A PDF version of NRB's Comments to the FCC can be viewed here.

In addition to advancing biblical truth and promoting media excellence, NRB fights for the basic rights of religious freedom, free speech and freedom of the press as they impact Christian communicators. Since 1944, NRB has advocated on behalf of its members in Washington, DC.

Published: June 20, 2013