As the Supreme Court (FCC v Fox Television Stations) once again wrestles with government control of profanity and nudity on broadcast television, I marvel at the focus. Children can watch murders, rapes, kidnappings, stabbings and beatings a hundred times a day, but it appears they need protection from profanity and nudity! In considering the difficult First Amendment questions, should the Court be asking whether there is a need or justification for the regulations? The statute and regulations creates a "safe haven" -- safe from what?
The network that allowed Janet Jackson to bare her breast for a millisecond was fined $550,000. The supposed basis for these regulations is to protect our children. How are children harmed by seeing a bare breast or a naked behind? I am not talking here about pornography or obscenity -- which also have their own definition problems -- but language and nudity. What happens to the children of the country after seeing a breast or even an entire naked person? When we were kids we called them "dirty pictures" and somehow we have incorporated that concept into law (and survived and even enjoyed the experience). Every child has or will see someone naked during their lifetime. Are they somehow traumatized by seeing them when they are young?
And to me, the concern about profanity is even more ludicrous. How are children harmed by the old label of "curse words" a la George Carlin? If children hear those words and their parents don't want them to use them, they can say so. But there is no intrinsic harm in hearing them. All of us would draw some lines when it comes to what should be available on TV -- broadcast and cable. "We know it when we see it," but that standard is different for everyone and too vague to provide guidance. The availability and competition of cable makes the restrictions even more problematic. It's like a father saying: "We don't allow that kind of language here -- go next door if you want to hear it!"
Also, there is the irony of those who insist on regulating profanity and nudity on TV. Although many favor it, the social conservatives are the moving force -- advocates of family values. But those are the same persons who insist that government should stay out of their private lives, and, at the same time, want it to tell TV broadcasters what they can say and show and families what they can see and hear. I am all for protecting children where they need protection, but my view is that far more harm comes from the barrage of violent, criminal activity on TV rather than from profanity and nudity.
Finally, if the Court should determine to allow "fleeting expletives" on TV in the name of free speech, it certainly will not cause anywhere near the harm to children that Citizens United has caused to the entire country.
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