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FCC Horse Sense

The FCC wants the TV set to become your new, all-purpose media monitor. But if that happens, the commission will have a much more problematic time trying to be a media content monitor. And that’s not altogether a bad thing.

We know the commission wants video of all stripes to be widely available to viewers (presumably young and old), because it launched a proceeding recently pushing cable and electronics companies to come up with a set-top gateway device that could deliver broadcast, cable and Internet video.

The idea of allowing viewers to access streamed online content as well as traditional video is to drive the adoption of broadband deployment. That’s because while only 75%-80% of folks have computers, close to 100% of us have a TV set in the house.

So, let’s say the FCC gets its wish, and the TV becomes that all-purpose monitor. How, then, does the FCC cherry-pick broadcast content to regulate? Or explain why it has pushed for viewers being able to access Internet video (including all that unmentionable, legal and wildly popular adult content) on the same set it is trying to scrub of an occasional expletive or innuendo?

This issue was brought to mind last week as we pondered the FCC’s ongoing inquiry into the episode of American Dad featuring a plot sideline about pleasuring a racehorse. The FCC has launched an inquiry into the matter, and gotten into a procedural tussle with Fox after it produced only one complaint but asked for info from all of the 200-plus Fox stations.

The FCC is expending time and resources chasing down complaints about a scene that is at worst tasteless, and which has clear precedent for being within the bounds of even the agency’s vague and wandering standards. Back in 2004, the commission ruled that a scene from the Fox series Keen Eddie, in which a horse was being serviced by a prostitute in the interests of artificial insemination, was not indecent.

The FCC’s current dust-up with Fox over not providing enough info reminds us a bit of Captain Queeg’s fixation on information regarding the missing strawberries in The Caine Mutiny, though others have described the FCC’s single-minded pursuit of Janet Jackson on another indecency front as being like Ahab’s quest for the whale.

Whichever nutty captain you choose, neither reminds us of the current FCC chairman. This commission has a lot better uses of its time and talents than to expend them harassing broadcasters over farce and innuendo, particularly when it appears comfortable with inviting much stronger fare into the living room in service of its quest for universal broadband adoption.