In January, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case involving the FCC’s right to regulate the presence of fleeting four-letter words and scripted nudity in broadcast TV programs. Under a 1978 Supreme Court ruling arising out of a radio broadcast of a George Carlin routine, broadcasters currently have a “safe harbor” between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. within which they may broadcast material deemed too indecent for children. Noting the overabundance of unregulated non-broadcast TV programming already available to the currently protected public (not to mention the proliferation of DVRs), at least one justice seemed to wonder whether the FCC rules were fair or justified—or meaningful in any way at all.
Whether the Supreme Court issues a case-specific narrow ruling or takes the opportunity to provide a sweeping edict, the decision may soon become moot if, as Justice Alito seemed to predict, broadcast TV were to “die a natural death.” In that case, parents wishing their children avoid a de facto TV’s 24-hour “safe harbor” may have to return to the old days of crowding around the radio (as long as it is not satellite radio). // Michael Racette