Thirty years ago this week (July 3rd), the Supreme Court handed down its landmark First Amendment decision, FCC v. Pacifica Foundation
. Spurred by a Pacifica Foundation radio station airing the late George Carlin's infamous "seven dirty words" monologue, a splintered 5-4 court held that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was justified in levying fines on broadcasters who aired indecent content during daytime and early evening hours.
The logic behind Pacifica
has always been shaky. The so-called "pervasiveness" concept articulated in Pacifica
- the notion that broadcasting was "uniquely pervasive" and an "intruder" in the home, and therefore demanded special, artificial content restrictions - is easily contradicted by the fact that no one forces parents to bring televisions or radios into their homes.
pervasiveness rationale has been eroded by modern media developments. If the goal was to protect children from potentially objectionable content, then Pacifica
is hopelessly out of touch with modern marketplace realities. In a world of media abundance and technological convergence, children simply consume less broadcast. A 2006 Bolt Media survey found that almost 80 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds were unable to name the "Big Four" TV broadcast networks. For today's youth, it's all about social networking, video games, instant messaging, YouTube, podcasts, and digital downloads.
pervasiveness rationale fails today for another reason: New content screening and tailoring technologies have empowered parents to better dictate what their families see and hear.
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