Over the course of the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments both for and against allowing or disallowing the prohibition of certain curse words on network television. And, according to the Hollywood Reporter, deciding for decades to come whether Americans will find a safe haven from the decadence seen in cable channels.
Not surprisingly, the Christian Science Monitor has weighed in suggesting that not only does the government reserve the right to prohibit indecent or profane content on television that is freely available to children, but a mandate to do so.
Unfortunately, or not, depending on which side you’re on, the issue before the court isn’t whether swear words are indecent, or whether people uttering such words on network television is inappropriate, because the job of the Supreme court, as NPR reminds readers, is to read the Constitution and look at pending legal issues to see whether it’s covered or not. This means that the ruling, whichever way it goes, is likely to have broader implications than just whether people should be allowed to swear on network television. If the court rules that the constitution allows the government to step in to prevent the broadcasting of indecent or obscene material over so-called publically accessible airwaves, than some in the legal profession might interpret that to mean certain parts of the Internet as well.
On the other hand, if the court says the government doesn’t have the right to filter network television, it’s not likely that things will change anytime soon anyway. As the Report correctly points out, advertisers hold the keys to that kingdom. If they feel content in a show they sponsor will hurt them, they will refuse to sponsor them, and that will make whatever the court has to say rather moot.
There is the possibility that there might be some middle ground as well. With the networks fighting what they see as an uphill battle against cable channels that are free to air whatever they wish, they will be fighting hard for more freedom to choose what they air, which could result in a more obvious dividing line between prime-time fare, and stuff that is allowed after hours. In such cases, it’s likely filtering children from such content will fall to parents, who thus far, have proven to be less than diligent.
What’s still unclear is how such a decision might affect viewers. If the court comes down on the side of filtering, than not much will change. But if things go the other way and swearing suddenly starts cropping up in certain television shows, will viewers complain or stop watching, or simply go along with the change. Clearly no one can say for sure, but after the court hands down its decision, we’ll no doubt find out.