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Opening Arguments

Must-see TV

Honestly, I haven't noticed any particular restraint being exercised -- have you?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering making changes to its rules that bar TV and radio stations from airing indecent material.

The commission on Monday issued a request for public comment on a proposal that would focus on penalizing only "egregious" cases. The proposal would be a shift away from the agency's past policy, adopted during the Bush administration, of penalizing even "fleeting expletives."

The commission asked for input on how it should handle expletives and brief non-sexual displays of nudity. The rules only cover broadcast TV and radio stations—not cable, satellite or Internet content.

If anything, the networks have been pushing ever further into once-forbidden territory in their efforts to combat cable offerings, which aren't regulated. And what will equal an "egregisous" case? The court has alrady overturned two indedcency fines because the enforcement policy was "vague." With "egreguous" replacing "fleeing," we're still vague and getting pretty subjective, too.

The court hasn't addressed the issue of whether the FCC even has the constitutional right to dictate content. I would argue no -- the First Amendment is the First Amendment. It's always embarrassed me a little that the print press has given the government a pass on its censorship this instead of sticking up for the free speech rights of our fellow communicators in another medium.