WGAW Urges FCC to Phase Out Primetime Indecency Rules

The union urged the FCC to replace content rules with technological solutions for families who don’t want to watch edgy content

Calling current Federal Communications Commission indecency standards “vague and ripe for abuse,” the Writers Guild of America West added its voice to media companies’ suggestions that FCC indecency rules need to be cut back or eliminated for primetime programming.

As the FCC moves forward with a review of current indecency rules, WGAW has told the FCC that it agrees with NBCUniversal’s view that the current FCC standards tend to promote a “heckler’s veto” over TV shows content more often than real community concerns.

It suggested the standards “can give a vocal minority disproportionate power to target content that they disapprove of, which may or may not be indecent” and said the lack of clarity in FCC standards “has a chilling effect on content.”

It also suggested that the current FCC complaint process has “the potential for abuse” especially impacting diverse audiences. It urged the FCC to replace the content rules with technological solutions for families who don’t want to watch edgy content.

“The dramatic changes in the video distribution market that have occurred since 1978 require modernization of the FCC's indecency regulations," the union said. “There is undeniable social value in content some might consider indecent, and such content has a place on broadcast television.”

Also read: FCC Considers New Policy for Policing Broadcast Indecency

WGA went on to suggest that the FCC needs to move forward to revise the indecency standards.

“Given this reality and the potential chilling effect indecency regulations have on diverse content, the Commission should phase out application of indecency regulations.”

The FCC initiated the review of its indecency rules after its attempt to step up policing of edgy content was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court acted on technical grounds, saying said the FCC hadn’t given broadcasters sufficient notice before starting to view so called “isolated” instances of nudity and profanity on TV as violating the agency’s indecency rules.

After the high court ruling, then FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski dismissed nearly 70 percent of the FCC’s indecency complaints and sought comments on whether changes in indecency standards were warranted. 

In initial comments filed in June, more than 100,000 people called for the FCC to toughen — not weaken — indecency enforcement, while broadcasters called for easing rules. 

The Parent’s Television Council, which had urged its members to write the FCC, called the 100,000 initial comments “clear evidence of the public’s deep and abiding concern about media content generally and the use of the public airwaves specifically.”

Friday was the FCC’s deadline for reply comments.