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Powell warns industry to establish its own decency guidelines

Speaking before the NAB Indecency Summit late last month, FCC Chairman Michael Powell warned his audience in Washington, D.C., that it is “unwise” for the broadcast industry to seek FCC rulemaking to create “clarity” in what material is prohibited because a “Dirty Conduct Code” may “deep freeze” free speech.

Calling on broadcasters to establish their own voluntary guidelines, he reminded his audience that it was in their own best interest to take action. “It is your ‘publicness’ that also invites strong governmental oversight and interest,” he said. “The ability to limit these intrusions and protect your commercial viability depends heavily on policing yourselves. I think this industry must set a higher standard commensurate with its privilege as public trustees and with its own traditions. Setting your own standards is your best defense.”

According to the chairman, the furor over broadcast indecency isn’t centered on the fact that performer Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl. Rather it has more to do with the timing and surprise of the incident.

“The Super Bowl incident and the debate it unleashed is not really about a bare breast,” he said. “It is not whether our society can accept public displays of the human body. It can. What really upset people was the shock and amazement that such material would appear on that program at that time, without warning, and without any reasonable expectation that they would see such a thing.

“In other words, the debate is not best understood as one about what you can do or cannot do on radio or television. Rather, it is more about whether consumers can rely on reasonable expectations about the range of what they will see on a given program at a given time.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps also addressed the gathering and told those in attendance that competitive pressure and a lack of will to police the airwaves before the Super Bowl incident were largely responsible for where the industry finds itself today on the issue of indecency.

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