FCC Indecency Definition



The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities." Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or extretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.

In each case, the FCC must determine whether the material depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities and, if so, whether the material is “patently offensive.”

In the assessment of whether material is “patently offensive,” context is critical. The FCC looks at three primary factors when analyzing broadcast material:

(1) whether the description or depiction is explicit or graphic;

(2) whether the material dwells on or repeats at length descriptions or depictions of sexual or excretory organs; and

(3) whether the material appears to pander or is used to titillate or shock.

No single factor is determinative. The FCC weighs and balances these factors because each case presents its own mix of these, and possibly other, factors.

“Profane language” includes those words that are so highly offensive that their mere utterance in the context presented may, in legal terms, amount to a “nuisance.” In its Golden Globe Awards Order the FCC warned broadcasters that, depending on the context, it would consider the “F-Word” and those words (or variants thereof) that are as highly offensive as the “F-Word” to be “profane language” that cannot be broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.