Athens, Ga. – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is inhibiting broadcasters and university administrators are threatening student press freedoms, according to a University of Georgia journalism professor.
Broadcasters have become skittish since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dramatically increased fines for even a single occurrence of broadcast indecency, warned Kent Middleton, head of the department of journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Middleton told lawyers, judges and journalists attending the 14th annual Georgia Bar Media and Judiciary Conference in Atlanta that self-censorship among broadcasters has risen as the FCC increases fines for “indecent” programming.
For example, 66 ABC television stations recently declined to broadcast the award-winning movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Middleton said, before the FCC ruled that the repeated expletives spoken by World War II soldiers portrayed in the film were not indecent.
“Vague FCC guidelines are causing broadcasters to shelve quality programming out of fear of high fines for indecency,” Middleton said at the March 4 meeting. Pending legislation would increase fines to $500,000 for indecency infractions.
The Federal Communications Commission is overreacting, Middleton said, to broadcasts of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl and to a few instances of gratuitous expletives during prime time.
Freedom of the college press is also in danger, Middleton warned. He told of a Chicago court case in which university administrators are claiming expanded powers to censor a state university newspaper. Middleton said he hopes the federal appellate court will declare unconstitutional an attempt by Governors State University to regulate the college press with the same broad authority that high school administrators have to regulate high school publications.
“College students should enjoy broader free speech rights than high school students,” Middleton said.