By Christopher B. Daly
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that two broadcasters who aired material that was arguably indecent can get off on a technicality. The court ruled yesterday that the FCC, which regulates broadcasting (because broadcasting uses the electromagnetic spectrum, which we all own, collectively), did not give the broadcasters sufficient notice.
The real question is this: what the heck is the FCC still doing trying to regulate the content of television? That is a question that SCOTUS apparently decided to sidestep in the latest case.
Since Congress created the fore-runner to the FCC in 1927, the FCC has been overseeing radio, television, and other communications that use the public’s airwaves. Leaving the merits of their decisions aside, is there any rationale for FCC interference in what can be shown on cable television (which does not use the airwaves and relies instead on entirely private property)?
The landmark case in this area remains FCC v. Pacifica — the one involving the late comedian George Carlin’s famous “seven words you can’t say on radio” skit.