FCC fines ABC for airing Charlotte Ross’s naked butt in 2003

News: On Friday of last week, the Federal Communications Commission issued a $1.43 million “indecency” fine against ABC for airing the naked butt of actress Charlotte Ross on an episode of NYPD Blue in 2003. The fine is based on $27,500 per ABC affiliate stations that aired the show in Central time at 9 p.m. — 1 hour before broadcasters apparently can air naked rear ends on TV. (more from Wash Post)

Analysis: The FCC “indecency” rules need to be overturned. They are outdated in the age of the Internet and they seem nothing short of censorship masquerading as a legal rule. Although the Supreme Court in 1978 did uphold (in a plurality opinion) the FCC’s power to regulate “indecent” material broadcast on the airwaves (see Pacifica), in 2008 the basis for that decision is more and more suspect. Pacifica was based on the Court’s view (i) that TV has a “pervasive presence” in American homes and (2) is available to children. The Court upheld the FCC’s sanction against a radio for broadcast of George Carlin’s “filthy words” routine at 2 p.m. in the afternoon.

First things first: 9 p.m. is different from 2 p.m. in the afternoon.

Second, why is the FCC worried about something that happened in 2003? NYPD Blue no longer exists as a show.

Third, the Internet has, for many Americans, an equally pervasive presence that is available also to children in the same way as TV. Indeed, the lines between TV and the Internet have become increasingly blurred. Yet the thought of the U.S. government issuing fines for “indecent” content on the Internet would probably scare most Americans into thinking that the government was following the censorship policy of China.

Also, I wonder whether the FCC has been engaging in arbitrary enforcement of its “rule.” As I seem to recall, NYPD Blue used to routinely show naked butts on their show. The joke was that every actor would eventually have to show off their naked behind, including even Dennis Franz as Andy Sipowicz. I’m not sure if the FCC ever challenged ABC’s nudity in all those other shows. (Maybe it did, but I don’t think so.)

In the last day, clips of the “indecent” episode of NYPD Blue have been posted on YouTube.   Within 1 day, one clip received over 1 million views on YouTube–thanks to the FCC’s action in trying to regulate “indecency.”  You can judge for yourself what you think about the nudity in the clip and whether a $1.43 million fine is what you want the government to be handing down for such content. Of course, viewer discretion is advised.

Here’s a link to the NYPD Blue “indecent” nudity involving a naked butt.

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