We have all heard how the FCC monitors what people on radio and television do any say. They have been accused of violating the First Amendment, but really is that what they do. We know that they have been after radio personalities like Howard Stern many times as well as managing anyone who likes to do anything that is considered offensive on public television and radio.
So it begs the question, what exactly does the FCC do? What is their purpose? Let’s get to the bottom of this.
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission, also known as the FCC, is an independent governing body that reports directly to Congress. Their purpose, to put it simply, is to monitor and regulate radio, television, wires, satellite, as well as cable communications for the United States.
Pretty much, anytime anyone is offended by something they see or hear, they can complain to the FCC about it. Whether the FCC does anything about it depends on whether the complaint has any weight and if the offending party actually did anything at all that was against the rules.
So then we need to ask ourselves who the FCC really is. And who is making the rules? When radio was really taking off as a household function in the 1930s, the United States created the Communications Act in 1934, which covered appropriate practices for the radio, at the time which has been further expanded to include other forms of media.
The FCC reviews any complaints that come in as well as monitoring the media as well to ensure that there are not any violations happening. They do this to help keep the airways clean and rid of anything that would not be appropriate for parties. The thing ot remember is that what people are watching or listening to is often live, so the explicit material in question is often a surprise, which is why people will then complaining about it.
The First Amendment
The biggest violations seem involve indecency, whether it is graphic and explicit sexual content or excretory material. While people complain about the First Amendment, they are not looking at the First Amendment. They are assuming what it says rather than understanding and reading what it actually says. For starters, “obscene” speech is not a protected right by the First Amendment. On the contrary, it is not allowed to be broadcast at any time.
To be labeled as “obscene,” language or graphics must meet three criteria.
- The average person who applies to the contemporary community standards must find the material in question to be against the greater good.
- The material in question must shot or explain something that is offensive or inappropriately sexual.
- The material in question lacks any kind of educational value, including something literary, artistic, political, or scientific. If it has no value, then it meets this standard.
The FCC only labels things either “obscene” or “indecent.” The definition of indecency per the FCC is:
“…language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity. The courts have held that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely. It may, however, be restricted in order to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.”
The issue of course is that what is indecent for one person is not for other, but that just makes the FCC’s job so difficult. The idea that the “common person” has to identity something as indecent leaves a lot of gray area.