Remember Janet Jackson’s infamous nipple flash? And when Howard Stern moved to satellite radio? Those events caused a furor in the congress (among both Democrats and Republicans) and persuaded the FCC to exersize their regulatory authority, which includes passing out heavy fines to keep indecency off the public airwaves.
When all this went down, Jeff Jarvis and some other bloggers were extremely upset, but I honestly didn’t think it was a big deal. As I saw it, Jeff and his friends were missing a crucial distinction between the licensed broadcast spectrum and other types of transmissions.
All other factors aside, the frequencies allocated to broadcast radio and TV are a limited public resource and the stations that profit from their use have entered into an agreement with the public about what they can and can’t do with that resource. Part of that agreement prohibits the use of certain words, explicit sex, and extreme violence. The borders have been fuzzy and shifting and often ignored, but they’ve always been there and no one should be surprised when they’re invoked. You may not like it personally, but it’s a reasonable and consistent position for the FCC to take.
Cable and satellite transmissions, on the other hand, are entirely different. They’re operated and paid for by private companies for the benefit of their customers. They don’t consume any public resources, and don’t fall under the same rules.
Unfortunately, Jeff might have been right after all, because Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and some others on the Commerce Committee seem to have missed this distinction, too. They’re making noises that their regulatory power also extends to cable and satellite. In other words, they think the government can control any type of communication, simply because a lot of people might see or hear it. And cable and satellite transmissions are fair game, why not what’s on your computer monitor too?
For the children, of course.
Ace says it best and explains why this idea is political suicide for anyone dumb enough to try
it. Senator Stevens would quickly discover that most people, regardless of politics, don’t share his views. (You’d think Alaskans, especially, would appreciate something to help pass
the time on those long, cold nights. Oh well.) Fortunately President Bush is
pretty levelheaded on this issue and it’s unlikely to go very far. By any reasonable standard it’s a ridiculous and shameful suggestion.