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FCC seeks public comment in review of TV, radio decency policy

Children watch television inside a motel room in Grand Prairie, Texas July 2, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi
Children watch television inside a motel room in Grand Prairie, Texas July 2, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

(Reuters) - Regulators on Monday launched a review of policy governing the way it enforces broadcasts of nudity and profanity on radio and television and asked for public comment on whether its current approach should be amended.

The Federal Communications Commission issued a public notice inviting comment on whether it should focus its efforts on pursuing only the "most egregious" cases in which rules are broken, or focus on isolated cases of nudity and expletives uttered on radio and TV shows.

The public notice follows a Supreme Court ruling in June 2012 against a government crackdown some 10 years ago on nudity and profanity.

"We now seek comment on whether the full Commission should make changes to its current (egregious cases) broadcast indecency policies or maintain them as they are," the FCC said on Monday.

It asked for public input over the next 30 days on whether, for example, it should treat cases of nudity in the same way as profanity, and whether "deliberate and repetitive" use of expletives is necessary to prove indecency.

Since the Supreme Court ruling, the FCC said it had focused its enforcement on "egregious cases" and had handled a backlog of more than 1 million complaints since June 2012.

The Supreme Court said that the FCC rules were vague and that it had not given fair notice of a tougher stance that resulted in three-high profile incidents that resulted in complaints and fines against U.S. networks.

These included the broadcast of a glimpse of singer Janet Jackson's breast at a 2004 Super Bowl half time show.

Under a 2001 FCC policy that was amended in 2004, network and local radio and television channels can be fined up to $325,000 for a single fleeting expletive blurted out on a live show or for brief glimpses of nudity. Cable and satellite operators are not subject to such rules.

The FCC said that it would continue to enforce its current polices as usual during the comment period and that Monday's public notice did not alter any of its policies.

The TV industry has argued that policies have been inconsistent over the years, allowing the television broadcast of movie "Schindler's List" that includes nudity, but leading to fines against News Corp's Fox television for expletives uttered by singer Cher and reality TV star Nicole Richie on awards shows in 2002 and 2003.

The most publicized case in recent years was the so-called "wardrobe malfunction" that allowed part of Jackson's breast to be briefly exposed during a half-time show for the 2004 Super Bowl football championship that drew half a million complaints.

CBS was fined $550,000 but the fine was thrown out by the Supreme Court in a separate judgment in late June 2012.

(Reporting By Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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