Posted by: carolbcarolb | November 7, 2011

What’s your malfunction…

I echo those of you who said this week’s readings were heavy and left you feeling a bit depressed. It is apparent that just the existence of an advanced media system does not guarantee that it will serve democracy.

Corporate ownership of media is becoming more ubiquitous with more and more First Amendment rights being accorded to corporations. Last week an appellate court reversed the FCC fine against CBS surrounding the Janet Jackson Superbowl “wardrobe malfunction” incident. CBS said that it hoped the decision “will lead the FCC to return to the policy of restrained indecency enforcement it followed for decades.” Duke University law professor Stuart Benjamin, a telecommunications law expert, called the decision “a slap in the face for the FCC.” Lurking behind the case, he said, is a “really big First Amendment issue: Is there really any difference between broadcast and cable, Internet, books, etc.? If we apply the same First Amendment scrutiny to broadcast as we do to other forms of communication, all these broadcast indecency rules are almost certainly unconstitutional.”


1.  Does this latest court decision send another message that the corporate media is untouchable and can do no wrong?

2.  Is it right for corporations to be considered “people” and given the same First Amendment rights as you or I? What could the future implications of this look like?


  1. The irony of the FCC’s relationship with broadcasting is that while it has aggressively reduced ownership limits, it simultaneously places unique burdens on networks and stations when it comes to profanity or nudity, or in this case, even suggested nudity. The FCC has been pressured by social conservatives to lodge exorbitant fines for even “fleeting” instances of coarse language or nudity. This recent ruling acknowledged that in live productions “fleeting” instances cannot be prevented. This had always been the standard before the CBS incident.

    This has real world applications. Imagine that someone in the crowd streaks during a live broadcast of the Grand Floral Parade. Under the previous ruling the station televising that community event can get slapped with a $250,000 fine. Someone runs into a live news shot covering the Occupy movement and says the F-word. Too bad, the station is liable again. Of course, cable isn’t subject to the same burden.

    What was completely lost in the “wardrobe malfunction” event is the sexist nature of who received all the blame. Janet Jackson become the Hester Prynne of offensive programming. Justin Timberlake, who tore off her clothing, got a pass from the whole discussion.

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