The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 15, 2012

Robin L. Quillon | Fighting for decency on public airwaves

Robin L. Quillon

— Someone once said that “when morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.”

Should TV networks that broadcast over public airwaves be allowed to use profanity or show nudity whenever they want? Does the federal government have a right to say what is and is not acceptable to broadcast over public airwaves?

Those are the questions now before the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in the latest case to challenge government policing of the airwaves, policies dating back to the 1930s.

At issue is whether the court should strike down or limit the indecency rules adopted during the Bush administration by the Federal Communications Commission.

In defense of continued regulation, the Obama administration said: “The media world of the 21st century is polluted with enough filth, and giving networks the freedom to do as they please will mean the end for family-friendly programming.”

I agree with President Obama.

The Fox network has been fined by the FCC for the use of the F-word and S-word.

Cher uttered the F-word during the 2002 Billboard Music Awards. Reality star Nicole Richie did the same in 2003, using the same expletive during a live appearance on the program. And who can forget the exposed breast of Janet Jackson as she and Justin Timberlake sang on stage during Super Bowl XXXVIII and a “supposed” wardrobe malfunction took place for the entire world to see, unexpectedly?

ABC stations were whacked with fines after an episode of “NYPD Blue” featured a lengthy shot of a woman’s naked behind. The nudity was shown before 10 p.m., the cut-off point for indecent material.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said this past Tuesday that the network maintains the nudity on “NYPD Blue” was “not indecent,” and the fines were “unwarranted and unconstitutional.”

Lawyers for major networks argue their clients deserve to be freed from the federal “indecency” police, sighting First Amendment rights.

Right or wrong, the fact is we now live in a world where you can see anything your imagination can conjure 24/7 with a simple click of a mouse. There is content on the Internet right now that would make a goat puke. And yet, content which upsets one goat’s stomach is another’s delicious chocolate cake.

It appears the networks believe the raunchier, the more viewers, and they want in on the action without restraints.

I, for one, cannot see the value of adding the F- or S-word or increased nudity to TV shows. And believe that if current policies are relaxed in anyway, that is precisely what will happen. Soon, the only safe harbor will be no TV at all.

What say you? Is this lawsuit in the name of free speech by the networks a sign of a progressive society? Or an indictment of its complacency?

Chief Justice John Roberts, the father of two young children, said: “All we are asking for – what the government is asking for – are a few channels where you are not going to hear the ‘S-word,’ the ‘F-word.’ (Children) are not going to see nudity. There are 800 channels where they can go for that.”

Justice Antonin Scalia said: “These are public airwaves. The government is entitled to insist upon a certain modicum of decency.”

I agree.

I believe if TV networks prevail and take away the last vestige of decency from the public airwaves and “anything goes,” everything will go.

Robin L. Quillon is the publisher of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at


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