For art’s sake, FCC needs to serve adults in over-the-air programming
The Federal Communications Commission has specific rules prohibiting indecent programming between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., holding out that obscene programming is prohibited 24 hours a day.
So theoretically, an over-the-air station could show an indecent program between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
But as we are seeing in our homes at the moment, stations are reluctant to run anything even remotely untame, even in hours the FCC allows for such programming. From the official FCC Web site:
The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.
The ruling this week from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York may lend a hand to the cause. The court struck down the FCC’s indecency prohibition as being “unconstitutionally vague” that created a “chilling effect” on the 1st Amendment.
Provided that the ruling can stand long-term, or force the FCC to adjust its policy, the change would help this real-life example:
A PBS station in Chicago broadcasts a documentary — “The Beaches of Agnès” — as part of its POV series. The film won the Cesar award for Best Documentary in 2009. So we’re talking pretty artsy stuff. The documentary examines the film career of Agnès Varda as a memoir of sorts.
Within the documentary, there are a few shots of nudity. Nothing inherently sexual, well maybe for one scene, and there is full frontal nudity, male and female. But even though the PBS station in Chicago shows the documentary at 12:30 in the morning, every bit of actual nudity is covered with opaque bubbles.
There are a few scenes of art where the “nudity” isn’t disguised, but actual non-painting nudity isn’t shown.
It might be reasonable to assume, even for the sake of argument, that the nudity in the documentary, while necessary, fits the standard of indecent programming, but not obscene programming.
The FCC specifically allows over-the-air stations to show indecent programming, yet virtually no station takes them up on it. Why?
When I was a child, a Chicago-based UHF station showed the movie “Network” in prime time, featuring a brief topless shot of Faye Dunaway. This was a long time ago, but likely some time in the 1980s. We haven’t come a long way, baby.
As free-thinking as I am, I can see where the limit is reasonable — “protect” children when you want to protect them, but allow adults a little more credit at a time when children should be asleep.
In the current realm, children aren’t really the issue; narrow-minded adults are the problem. They don’t want you to see anything they don’t approve of, but use children as the excuse.
There is financial pressure, especially on PBS stations that can’t afford to fight any potential fine, on stations not to air such programming, even if they are allowed to do so. The appeals court ruling recognizes this reality.
One issue is that the FCC won’t set guidelines and standards on what is acceptable and what isn’t. Whatever you might think about the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system, at least filmmakers can go on precedent.
Makes you wonder why the United States is considered the land of the free.
In Canada, language airs uncensored on over-the-air television. Europe shows nudity in advertising. Their societies haven’t collapsed as a result, though good thing they have universal health care should something go wrong.
Children are listening to worse language in their music than expletives in live programming. Our children are learning about sex before they learn about the beauty and artistic impression of nudity.
And parents have V-chips and the ability to turn off their own TVs, and even the ones they let kids keep in their rooms.
In the land of the free, adults should be free to watch programming for adults on adult time. Without it, we aren’t as free as we claim to be.