FCC's Pai on Broadcast TV: ‘Keep It Clean’

Ajit Pai gave his first TV interview as chairman of the FCC to Fox Business Network and said he would investigate indecency complaints against CBS, NBC or anyone else if they were presented to him.

Pai appeared Thursday on the 2 p.m. hour of The Intelligence Report with Trish Regan.

Regan cited an F-bomb on SaturdayNight Live and Adele's F-bomb on the Grammys and asked if the FCC would be investigating them for "this kind of stuff."

"If we are presented with complaints, we are duty bound to enforce the law," he said, "and the law that is on the books today requires that broadcasters keep it clean so to speak." Pai said he took that FCC obligation seriously.

Actually, broadcasters are only required to do so at times when the FCC has determined that children are most likely to be in the audience, which is 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

But Pai did suggest he would be watching what broadcasters say on air, per FCC indecency rules on the books, adding: "[A]s a parent I want to make sure that my kids have a wholesome experience when they are watching programs like that."

If the FCC did investigate those, it would likely not take any action given that 1) SNL airs after 10 p.m., when broadcasters can air profanity and nudity without repercussions beyond the input of their viewers, the latter of which is likely the reason broadcasters don't suddenly act like cable nets from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. when indecent content is not actionable, and 2) CBS spokesfolk told B&C that while Adele did indeed swear on the awards show, their tape delay caught it and it did not go over the airwaves.

In fact, CBS was praised by the Parents Television Council for its handling of the incident. PTC's complaints about the Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show, also on CBS, helped prompt the FCC indecency crackdown under previous Republican FCC chairs.

But PTC also had praise for Pai's position. “I thank and applaud Chairman Pai for his comments in support of enforcing a law that reflects the will of Congress and the sense of the nation," said PTC President Tim Winter, "and which has withstood numerous legal challenges brought by the broadcast networks.” 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.