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'Taking the FCC Out of Regulating Indecency' Will Lead to More, Not Less, Indecency Despite What WSJ Columnist L. Gordon Crovitz May Think

by Staff
July 29, 2010
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NEW YORK, ( -- Yesterday, a column entitled "The Technology of Decency" appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Authored by L. Gordon Crovitz, the column was prompted by a recent federal court decision which invalidated the FCC's broadcast indecency law enforcement policy on vagueness grounds. In his column, Mr. Crovitz opined that technology now enables parents to block offensive content and that "Taking the FCC out of regulating indecency might lead to more decency."

MIM President Robert Peters commented:

There is an old saying that those who ignore history are destined to repeat it; and what history teaches is that in the absence of government regulation or the threat thereof, mainstream entertainment goes from bad to worse when it comes to offensive and harmful content. For that lesson, we need look no further than the history of Hollywood and cable television.

In 1951, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protected motion picture films; and in the 1980s, federal courts invalidated on First Amendment grounds laws that would have prohibited cable TV indecency. Can any honest person say that there is "more decency" in motion picture films and on cable TV today than there was before these court decisions?

Going back to the 1960s, the federal courts have also invalidated every government effort to restrict children's access to violent films and video games. Can any honest person say this has resulted in less violent, more humane films and games?

It is true, as Mr. Covitz observes, that mainstream newspapers have on the whole maintained standards of decency, despite the lack of government regulation. But so has TV news. Perhaps there still is a grain of integrity that exists in most journalists that does not exist in most entertainers. Furthermore, in principle at least, it is the job of the news media to inform and educate, not to crassly "entertain."

I would add that in yesterday's NY Post (part of News Corp., which also owns the WSJ), a large photograph of a topless Paris Hilton appeared on page 3, with only her nipples blurred.

It is also true, as Mr. Covitz observes, that technology today makes it easier for parents to block objectionable content. But with the V-Chip, the technology is only as good as the rating system it utilizes and the TV rating system, like the MPAA system it is patterned after, is largely a sham.

Furthermore, to protect children from indecency not just on TV but also in films shown in local theaters and in DVDs and videogames sold in local stores and on various devices that provide access to the Internet requires capability and time, as well as responsibility.

Of course, we too can say, as the Supreme Court has said (in so many words), "To hell with children whose parents don't live up to our lofty expectations." But hopefully enough of us still realize that while parents are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting children, they aren't the only line of defense. In a viable civilization, government also has an important role to play.

I would add that Mr. Crovitz is wrong when he says that TV standards "have only fallen since the federal government started monitoring broadcasting for indecency in the 1970s." As far back as 1972, TV Guide reported, "America's attitudes towards sex, nudity and language are changing fast -- and so are television's. Too fast?" (Max Gunther, "TV and the New Morality," 10/14/72).

The above article appeared just four years after the MPAA abandoned its voluntary Hays Code, which had governed the content of films since the 1930s.

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