From sporting events to award shows, lack of censorship has always been an issue with live television. The Supreme Court, through FCC v. Fox, is now debating: how far can television go?
While the Supreme Court deliberates, students and faculty share concerns regarding the decision of the case. Trevor Hall, a professor at Boise State, has done extensive research on the FCC and its regulatory power.
“It [the FCC] does not have the right to edit or censor,” Hall said in an email. “However, according to federal statutory law it does have the responsibility to sanction indecent broadcast material. The Supreme Court has recognized this as constitutional. Since the airwaves are essentially public property, this is seen as part of broadcaster’s public responsibility in exchange for use of the electromagnetic spectrum.”
Hall said the main issue Fox News had with the FCC was the FCC did not previously regulate “fleeting expletives,” or non-scripted words said on live TV. However, after a series of outbursts found offensive by the public, the FCC began regulating the expletives without much warning or explanation.
Professor Ed Carter, an associate professor of communications at BYU, also has knowledge of the FCC’s ability to limit free speech.
“I believe the government can regulate profanity on TV without violating the Constitution and that the broadcasters should follow those rules,” he said.
Carter shared his knowledge on regulation of profanity.
“Society has historically regulated profanity in the public,” Carter said. “If you’re on the street yelling four-letter words and it’s causing a nuisance you can be arrested.”
Carter then clarified saying depending on how many times and how loud the person is yelling depends on if he or she can be arrested.
Carter said an issue of the case is that cable television is not regulated and so broadcast television does not believe they should be regulated either. The difference between the two types, however, is that people pay to have cable in their homes while broadcast television is in everyone’s home.
Brenna Donnelly, a broadcast student interning at a local station in Phoenix, Ariz., shared concerns about the case.
“Personally, I’d be worried if the networks won the case,” she said. “I think families will just turn off the TV and not get news from it. I think there are plenty of American families who think swearing and nudity are not in their children’s interest.”