What’s your Indecency IQ? Test your knowledge about how the FCC interprets and enforces its indecency policy by answering “True” or “False” to the following questions. Twenty-four correct answers qualifies you as a Doctor of Indecency. Get 22 right and earn a Masters degree.
Of course, for every wrong answer you could be heavily fined. Congress has raised the maximum fine for a single violation to $325,000.
Get more than three wrong, and you risk possible revocation of your license.
1. Some words are profane regardless of context.
TRUE. The FCC maintains that some language is “presumptively profane.”
2. A bare breast is more offensive than a bare butt.
TRUE. Although breasts and buttocks both are considered sexual organs, an exposed female breast is considered indecent, while buttocks have been considered indecent only if touched in some way.
3. “Poop,” “penis,” “ass,” “kiss my ass,” “bastard,” “bitch,” “dick,” “dickhead,” “pissed-off,” and “booty” are not indecent.
TRUE. So long as the reference is fleeting.
4. Stations that air the same programs at the same time will be treated in the same way.
FALSE. As a general rule, the FCC fines only stations against whom a complaint is made, and then only if the program was broadcast outside the safe harbor period.
5. Words that cannot be understood by the average listener may nonetheless be indecent.
TRUE. The law is not limited to obscene, profane or indecent material broadcast in English.
6. Indecency counts even if it is broadcast by mistake.
TRUE. The accidental nature of a broadcast may affect the amount of a fine, but not the fact that indecent material is broadcast.
7. Profanity is just another word for indecency.
FALSE. Although there is overlap between the two concepts, the FCC insists that they are distinct, and that material that is not indecent may nonetheless be profane.
8. A program may be indecent even if no one is listening.
TRUE. The broadcast of indecent matter is prohibited between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., regardless of actual audience. It takes at least one complainant to raise the issue, but the commission has not required complainants to prove that they listened.
9. Local community values determine whether a broadcast is indecent.
FALSE. The standard applied is a national standard. It is intended to reflect the values of an average broadcast viewer or listener, not the sensibilities of any individual listener or community.
10. Song titles are exempt from indecency prosecution.
FALSE. There is no exception for song titles.
11. There is a limited exemption for classic songs and great literary works.
FALSE. Artistic merit is considered as a factor, but is not an absolute defense to an indecency complaint.
12. The FCC exempts bona fide news events and documentaries from its indecency policy.
FALSE. Indecency law recognizes the importance of context, but grants no absolute exemptions for news or newsworthy material.
13. The FCC distinguishes between commercial and noncommercial stations, just as listeners do.
FALSE. It applies the same standard to all stations, although it may exercise discretion and impose a lesser fine on a noncommercial station.
14. The FCC distinguishes between the broadcast of live and recorded material.
FALSE. The distinction between live and recorded material became virtually meaningless when the FCC decided to make even fleeting or isolated usages indecent.
15. Vile racial epithets and blasphemous religious slurs are profane.
FALSE. The FCC took pains to exclude such language from the definition of profanity.
16. Under the Communications Act, air talent cannot be personally fined for indecent speech.
FALSE. The Communications Act permits personal liability for a violation of the indecency law after the individual has received prior notice. Proposed legislation would remove the requirement of a warning.
17. If a listener is upset about an off-color joke on the air, the station must report the complaint to the FCC.
FALSE. Stations are not required to report the broadcast of matter that may be indecent.
18. A station won’t be fined if it bleeps or pixilates indecent material.
FALSE. Even an edited program may be found indecent if a sexual meaning can be inferred. The issue may devolve into a question of proof. If a station cannot provide satisfactory evidence of the broadcast of edited versions of music, the FCC could find that unedited indecent material was broadcast.
19. The FCC will not allow indecency complaints to be used as a form of harassment.
FALSE. The origin of a complaint and the motive of the complainant are irrelevant.
20. The FCC will excuse exclamations uttered by winners on a live call-in contest line, such as “Holy shit! I won!”
FALSE. The FCC has urged broadcasters to tape delay all live broadcasts. The fact that a broadcast is live may in appropriate circumstances, affect the amount of the fine.
21. Some of the infamous Seven Dirty Words are now so commonplace that they are no longer considered indecent.
FALSE. The “Seven Dirty Words” were used in a 1970s monologue by comedian George Carlin. Although indecency is no longer limited to such a list, the idea of inherently “bad” words is making a comeback in the guise of profanity. The commission has found that the phrase “pissed off” is not indecent.
22. If one program contains six different indecent “utterances,” the FCC will consider fining the station for six violations, not just one.
TRUE. The FCC reserves the discretion to fine a station not just for the broadcast of a program containing indecent matter, but for each indecent utterance within a program.
23. Frottage, in any form, is indecent.
FALSE. “Caressing and rubbing” are not indecent if sexual organs are not depicted.
24. Even FCC commissioners have a sense of humor.
FALSE. In the commission’s own words: “It is well settled that comedy formats do not insulate otherwise indecent material.”
The material presented here is intended solely for informational purposes and is of a general nature that cannot be regarded as legal advice. Consult a communications attorney if you have specific questions about law.