FCC Chairman Insists Indecency Is Clear

Michael Hayes
LAS VEGAS — Addressing the National Association of Broadcasters convention, Federal Communications Chairman Kevin Martin punched back against accusations leveled at him by broadcasters, saying that indecency laws were clear because they had not changed in more than 25 years.

What began as Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime, has escalated into a full-blown power struggle between broadcasters and the federal agency that regulates and licenses them.

In March, the FCC ruled that 49 TV shows on the four biggest networks had aired indecent material.

CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and their respective affiliates filed an appeal charging that the FCC is enforces “vague and inconsistent” indecency rules that have not been clearly standardized, and that the FCC fines “overstepped its [the FCC’s] authority.”

“The commission's findings recently on indecency did not extend beyond some of the same words that were found to be upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1970s,” Martin said.

Martin went on to scoff at the notion that the networks — or anyone else — needed additional guidance to identify indecent material.

“I'm not sure when people say they want additional guidance if it's that different than it was back in 1978 or 1979, as far as some of the words that are still on the list,” Martin said.

The list that Martin referred to was the seven dirty words bit created by comedian George Carlin.

The FCC’s standard definition of “indecency” is content that depicts or describes “sexual or excretory activities or organs in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.”

President Bush is said to be considering Martin for a second five-year term as head of the FCC.