FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, January 27, 2005

End of the Broadcast Paradigm?

TV networks' fear of the FCC decency crackdown has reached such heights that Fox is now blurring out "naughty bits" on its Family Guy cartoon. With the recently-announced resignation of FCC chairman Michael Powell, there's no guarantee that the crackdown will let up -- indeed, an even more conservative chairman could take the helm.

Some folks welcome the crackdown on nudity, violence and offensive language, while others see it as a suppression of free speech. The arguing is sure to only get louder, and the only thing we'll be able to agree on is to disagree.

The problem, however, is not with the FCC, or with conservatives or liberals. The problem is the paradigm of broadcasting, which is contradictory in terms of viewers' rights. The "public airwaves" are treated as common space, and people have the right to not be exposed to things in public that would offend them. But at the same time, we informally hold that adults have the right to view most any type of material.

The threshold of applying standards is choice. Because one must make a conscious decision (and work a little harder) to read a book, go see a movie, listen to satellite radio or visit a website, those media are held to a much less rigorous decency standard than broadcast TV or radio. The choice factor also makes it easier to keep these materials away from children or others who don't wish to see them.

So is the solution to eliminate the broadcast paradigm altogether? If we must make a conscious choice to access any kind of information, would that end the need for a body like the FCC to apply arbitrary decency standards? If programming systems like On Demand make television an a la carte medium, and other video is delivered through broadband Internet, would this satisfy those who wish to see adult-oriented materials and those who don't?