FCC and the “Fleeting Expletive” rule

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday, in a 5-4 decision, that the FCC could indeed fine networks for a “fleeting expletive” aired prior to 10 pm over the public airwaves. In the decision, they left open the possibility of re-hearing the case from the perspective of whether first ammendment rights are involved or not.

Given the fact that Obama is set to replace 3 of the 5 member FCC board, and that the “fleeting expletive” rule is a Bush administration policy, it is clear that this case is far from over.

Regardless, I am left to wonder how much this really matters in today’s world anyway. Make no mistake about it – I am very pleased with the courts ruling yesterday, and fully support the fleeting expletive rule – but given that the FCC has no control over the Internet and cable television, it certainly reduces the impact of such a decision.

Unfortunately, our children see “fleeting expletives” all the time when they are playing online games with people they don’t know. And, most of the time, the parents don’t even know because they can’t hear it from the next room – instead, it is piped into the headphones or typed on the screen. And the FCC has no control over it. Neither does anyone else.

In his written opinion on this case, Justice Scalia wrote “There are some propositions for which scant empirical evidence can be marshalled, and the hamful effect of broadcast profanity on children is one of them”. Unfortunately, the harmful effect is not diminished when the broadcast mechanism is the Internet rather than TV or radio. Michael Coops, who is acting Chairman of the FCC until the new leadership is confirmed, tried to “reassure parents that their children can still be protected from indecent material on the nation’s airwaves”. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the place where they spend most of their time – namely, in online and Internet-enabled console games.

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