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Dr. Larry Burris, MTSU professor of Journalism, answers the question: Why doesn't the Federal Communications Commission "do something" about the adult content we're seeing and hearing more and more often on cable television?

VERBATIM: The simple answer is, as a general rule, FCC powers extend only to the traditional over-the-air broadcasters. Cable and satellite broadcasts, however, travel over privately owned and operated hardware systems. In addition, because users pay a monthly fee, the assumption is they know what they are purchasing, including what the FCC may consider indecent material that would be prohibited on over-the-air broadcasts.


A further confusing element is that cable operators put programs into what appear to be over-the-air channels, but actually they are simply using empty slots in the channel lineup, not actual over-the-air channels.

All media forms have always tried to push the envelope in regards to content. Essentially, they will test the waters, so to speak, to see how the audience reacts. If particular content elicits little or no response from the public, then operators will push more and more until once-offensive material becomes common place.


In addition, other federal agencies can become involved in both over-the-air and cable content. For example, Federal Election Commission rules mandate political candidates acknowledge any advertising promoting their candidacy. This applies to candidate ads, but not to political action committee ads.

Another FCC rule, known as Section 315, has several requirements regarding candidate advertising. These rules, however, do not apply to cable, but operators will often follow Section 315, which allows them to say, "Look, we are already voluntarily following the rules, so we don't need more regulations."

Audiences, however, do have ultimate power over cable systems. They can cancel subscriptions, organize consumer boycotts of advertisers, and pressure Congress and the FCC to crack down on what they consider inappropriate material.

I'm Larry Burriss.

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Dr. Larry Burris, Larry Burris, Middle Tennessee State University, MTSU
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