Time Warner Takes Issue With FCC’s Fleeting Indecency Standard


Washington—Time Warner Inc. is concerned that banning fleeting indecency on broadcast TV could be used to justify regulating cable television programming for indecency for the first time.

The company, a major owner of cable-TV systems and programming networks, stated in an Aug. 8 filing in the U.S. Supreme Court that government regulation of television content shouldn't be allowed to spread to the cable medium.

Time Warner noted in the court brief that prominent individuals such as Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin have called for greater content regulation of the pay TV industry.

“Members of the FCC at various times have expressed an interest in obtaining the authority to regulate the content of cable television speech as well as broadcast television speech,” Time Warner said.

The Parents Television Council responded to Time Warner's filing, calling it “self serving” and “a smoke screen.”

“The Supreme Court has already established a legal standard for indecent content on broadcast television — a standard that is completely different from cable television,” the PTC said. “Time Warner's brief is a solution desperately searching for a problem.”

Time Warner is spinning off its cable company but it will continue to own HBO, CNN, AOL and various video-hosting Web sites. Unlike local TV stations, cable networks are not governed by federal indecency laws enforced by the FCC.

In recent years, the FCC has begun punishing TV stations for the broadcast of fleeting nudity and vulgar language. The agency's crackdown reversed three decades of precedent in which only repetitive and lengthy acts of indecency were considered violations.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a June 2007 ruling by a panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which struck down the FCC's fleeting indecency crackdown as a policy reversal that the agency failed to justify under a due process law that independent agencies are required to follow.

Time Warner told the Supreme Court that it should not affirm the FCC's new fleeting indecency standard. It also said that blocking technology — such as the V-chip, lock boxes and set-top boxes with parental controls — are more than adequate to shield children from inappropriate content on cable.

But the PTC dismissed blocking technology such as the V-chip and ratings system, saying, “those 'solutions' are designed to fail” because networks “rate their own programs and are financially motivated to under-rate them.”