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

January 29, 2008

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 They are outdated in the age of the Internet and they seem nothing short of censorship masquerading as a legal rule.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.

Turkey and Thailand look to censor YouTube

September 23, 2007

News:  Turkey just ordered YouTube blocked in its country in response to a video insulting Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  (More)   Not to be outdone, after banning YouTube for 5 months, Thailand wants YouTube to remove two videos that narrated “accuse General Prem Tinsulanonda, 87-year-old adviser to the widely respected King Bhumibol Adulyadej, of masterminding the coup in September 2006.” (More)

“Censorship” on and by YouTube

August 31, 2007

News:  There are several interesting blog posts today about censorship on and by YouTube, as to the controversial videos mocking the Thai King, the German Nazi videos, Al Qaeda recruitment videos, and even videos suspected of copyright infringement.  NYT writer Patrick Lyons has one post, which refers to another thoughtful post by Jason Lee Miller.

Miller writes at one point: “If speech on the Internet is determined by terms of service agreements set forth by private companies not only beholden to advertisers, partners and shareholders, but also to international pressures, then there will be no real freedom of speech on the Internet.”

Analysis:  Under the U.S. Constitution, there’s really no problem (legally speaking) for YouTube to remove content it deems objectionable.  YouTube is not a state actor, so YouTube’s “censorship” of material doesn’t come within the scope of the First Amendment.  Private actors can censor, the government can’t.  YouTube has every right to decide for itself — or let its community decide — to take down objectionable content, including hate speech videos, pornography, and copyright infringing videos.

The interesting wrinkle comes in when YouTube starts censoring based on compliance with foreign laws or requests by foreign governments, especially foreign laws that would violate our First Amendment if enacted here.  At least as a PR matter, it certainly presents YouTube something to think about.      

Thailand lifts ban on YouTube

August 31, 2007

News:  After 5 months, Thailand has finally lifted its ban of YouTube in its country.  The ban came after videos mocking the Thai King surfaced and resurfaced on YouTube — in violation of Thai law.  To reach a solution, YouTube apparently agreed to deploy filtering of the videos in Thailand (although it’s still not clear to me whether that means complete removal of all offending videos from YouTube, something YT had earlier resisted for some reason).  (More)

Analysis:  I’m surprised it took YouTube this long to get the ban lifted.  Maybe there’s not many users of YouTube in Thailand. 

Thailand to restore access to YouTube

June 26, 2007

News:  After weeks of a ban for objectionable content (clips making fun of the Thai King) (see here), Thailand said it will restore access to YouTube this week.  More.

Banned Venezuelan TV network airs on YouTube

June 2, 2007

News:  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shut down Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), a Venezuelan opposition TV network.  So now, RCTV is posting on YouTube.  (More)  It’s the most subscribed channel this week.

YouTube back up in Morocco

May 31, 2007

No official word on why it was blocked.  More.

YouTube down in Morocco

May 30, 2007

News:  Since May 25, YouTube has been unavailable in Morocco.  Some people in Morocco suggest that the government has blocked the site due to videos critical of Morocco’s actions in Western Sahara.  But the state owned Internet service provider says it’s just a technical glitch, while the government has no comment.  (More)

YouTube caves in to Thai gov’t, removes all but 2 clips

May 12, 2007

News: After receiving word that it would be criminally prosecuted in Thailand, YouTube finally caved in. It removed most of the video clips that allegedly made fun of the Thai king, which is a violation of Thai law. (Some of the videos may have already been removed by the poster.) In a letter sent by Google attorneys, YouTube said that 2 clips would remain on the site because “[t]hey appear to be political comments that are critical of both the government and the conduct of foreigners. Because they are political in nature, and not intended insults of His Majesty, we do not see a basis for blocking these videos.” (more)

Analysis: I was surprised YouTube hadn’t complied with the Thai government’s request from the start, since YouTube did so for an earlier request by the Turkish government (see here). Other countries may have more restrictive speech laws than we, so YouTube (like other websites) is put in the position of “censoring” speech in order to operate within those other countries’ laws. That’s the challenge of running a site on the Internet.

Thailand bans YouTube

April 4, 2007

News:  Thailand banned YouTube in its country after YouTube refused to remove a video mocking the Thai King.

Analysis:  YouTube’s position seems inconsistent with its removal of a video disparaging the founder of Turkey (story here).  I wonder why the Turkish government gets its request honored by YouTube, but not the Thai government?

UPDATE:  The offending video was taken down, apparently, by the person who posted it.  The Thai government, however, is still banning YouTube because there’s a still photo apparently mocking the King that’s still up on YouTube.  More here

Turkey lifts ban on YouTube

March 12, 2007

News:  A Turkish court lifted its ban on access to YouTube in Turkey after YouTube removed the videos, apparently posted by Greek users of YouTube, that had depicted or insulted the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, as a homosexual.  According to a Southeast European Times article, “Under Turkish law, it is forbidden to ‘insult Turkishness’ or to slander Ataturk, whose name means ‘Father of the Turks.'”

“‘The internet is an international phenomenon, and while technology can bring great opportunity and access to information globally, it can also present new and unique cultural challenges,’ YouTube said in a statement after the ban was imposed. ‘We respect the authorities in Turkey and are committed to working with them to resolve this. We should note, however, that the video in question is no longer on the site.'”

Analysis:  The international dimensions of this dispute make this a difficult case.  Obviously, in the U.S., where we have the freedom of speech, name calling and mere insults (absent defamation or a very hard to prove category of “fighting words”) are protected under the First Amendment.  In Turkey, however, that appears not to be the case, at least when the target of the derision is the Ataturk.  Because YouTube is available on the Internet around the globe, it will face challenges in implementing a consistent policy on allowing or removing certain clips that some may view as offensive.  For example, just last week, Ann Coulter not so subtly referred to presidential candidate John Edwards as a “faggot,” and that video is still available on YouTube.  In some respects, having the video available for public scrutiny seems like a better antidote here to Coulter’s slur because the video exposes Coulter in a way that a written news report could not.

YouTube banned in Turkey

March 7, 2007

News:  A court in Turkey ordered the ban of YouTube in Turkey, apparently because some Greeks and Turkish people have been trading insults on video on YouTube.  According to the Times Online, “Greek videos reportedly accused the founding president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, of homosexuality; a Turkish user responded by calling Greece the birthplace of homosexuality. It is illegal to criticise either Ataturk or Turkishness in Turkey and the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul acted despite YouTube’s agreement to take down the offending videos.”  Turk Telecom, a state ISP, complied with the court order and shut down access to YouTube throughout Turkey.

Analysis:  Unbelievable.

Is YouTube screening out conservative videos?

October 6, 2006

News:  New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan writes on her wonderful Screens blog about an allegation by Michelle Malkin that YouTube may have removed one of her videos from YouTube because of Malkin’s politically conservative views.

Analysis:  I haven’t seen the video of Malkin’s that was removed, so I have no way to evaluate her allegation.  Generally, though, I’m not into conspiracy theories, so I find it hard to believe that YouTube — with only 60 employees who are scrambling for their busy lives — has some left-wing conspiracy going on. 

Malkin’s current video above is pretty slick, I should add, and I enjoyed watching it.