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 They are outdated in the age of the Internet and they seem nothing short of censorship masquerading as a legal rule.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