Under normal circumstances, we don't feel compelled to comment upon news releases published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under normal circumstances, they are reliable indicators of actions the Commission has taken.
Statements by a chairman deserve a little more attention, if only because they can be written in a style that reflects more of the personality of the public official in question and can provide insight into that official's thinking and reasoning behind a complex public policy decision.
Yesterday, the Commission established a new standard for news releases and statements. We could dub it the Martin standard, in fairness to the chairman a who issued his statement in response to the decision of the U.S. Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit throwing out the Commission's decision to fine broadcast stations for the “fleeting” use of profanities in the course of live broadcasts in 2002 and 2003 in which some unrestrained celebrities tossed what are commonly referred to as “f-bombs.”
In other words, they weren't scripted, just stupid. The irony, of course, is that the FCC's Enforcement Bureau was willing to let the issue go, but the Commission in its role as Federal Nanny was browbeaten into reversing the Bureau's position, making it, literally, a federal case. A wise attorney friend of mine always warns about the dangers of litigation, and in this case the result was the smack-down of the Commission in a case that would never have developed if cooler heads had prevailed.
It is one thing for a celeb to mouth off at a spontaneous event. It may even be considered reasonable for a court to cite obscene words in its rulings in the course of discussing the evidence.
But to have the chairman tossing around such language in news releases? Is that really necessary? The Washington Post felt obligated on its Web link to Martin's statement to warn viewers: “WARNING: This statement contains graphic language.”
The comments by Chairman Martin hardly fall into the category of “fleeting.” They were deliberately provocative and inappropriate, if for no other reason than the court ruling didn't address the use of such language generally, but only in the context of live television broadcasts. We note that the news stories we saw about the comments of the chairman did not mention, nor quote, the language. Restraint can be a good thing. (We certainly did not see all of the stories, so if one did quote the statements, we apologize in advance.)
There are instances in which we should protect children from some things on TV. Who knew we would also have to screen out the FCC Web site also?