Indecency on Television

November 9, 2012 • Volume 22, Issue 40
Should the FCC crack down or give up?
By Kenneth Jost


The prime-time CBS show “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS Entertainment)
The prime-time CBS show “How I Met Your Mother” is rated by the Parents Television Council, an anti-indecency advocacy group, as “inappropriate for youngsters” because of its “heavy” sexual content. (CBS Entertainment)

The protracted legal fight over broadcast indecency is continuing after the Supreme Court wiped out penalties against three TV networks but left the constitutionality of the Federal Communications Commission's policy unresolved. Now, the FCC faces pressures from broadcasters and free-speech advocates on one side and anti-indecency groups on the other over how to deal with a backlog of 1.5 million pending complaints about sex and vulgarity on radio and television. Federal law prohibits obscenity, indecency or profanity on broadcast channels, though not on cable or satellite systems. The FCC tightened its policy in recent years to prohibit even a “fleeting” use of the F- or S-word and began imposing costly penalties against stations in indecency cases. Broadcasters say the policy limits their ability to compete with cable systems, but anti-indecency groups say over-the-air television should be kept as family-friendly as possible. Many legal experts say, however, that the proliferation of other media may lead the courts eventually to strike down the law.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Feb. 19, 2021  Hollywood and COVID-19
Apr. 11, 2014  Future of TV
Nov. 09, 2012  Indecency on Television
Aug. 27, 2010  Reality TV
Jun. 20, 2008  Transition to Digital TV
Feb. 16, 2007  Television's Future
Mar. 18, 2005  Celebrity Culture
Oct. 29, 1999  Public Broadcasting
Aug. 15, 1997  Children's Television
Dec. 23, 1994  The Future of Television
Mar. 26, 1993  TV Violence
Sep. 18, 1992  Public Broadcasting
Oct. 04, 1991  Pay-Per-View
Feb. 17, 1989  A High-Tech, High-Stakes HDTV Gamble
Dec. 27, 1985  Cable Television Coming of Age
Sep. 07, 1984  New Era in TV Sports
Sep. 24, 1982  Cable TV's Future
Apr. 24, 1981  Public Broadcasting's Uncertain Future
May 09, 1980  Television in the Eighties
Oct. 25, 1972  Public Broadcasting in Britain and America
Mar. 26, 1971  Video Revolution: Cassettes and Recorders
Sep. 09, 1970  Cable Television: The Coming Medium
May 15, 1968  Television and Politics
Mar. 01, 1967  Financing of Educational TV
Dec. 16, 1964  Community Antenna Television
Oct. 21, 1964  Sports on Television
Feb. 28, 1962  Expansion of Educational Television
Aug. 28, 1957  Television in the Schools
Jan. 18, 1957  Movie-TV Competition
Sep. 06, 1955  Television and the 1956 Campaign
May 18, 1954  Educational Television
Sep. 03, 1953  Changing Fortunes of the Movie Business
Apr. 20, 1953  Televising Congress
May 31, 1951  Television in Education
Jan. 26, 1949  Television Boom
Jul. 12, 1944  Television
Radio and Television