Is it still necessary for the U.S. government -- the Federal Communications Commission -- to watchdog broadcast TV to ensure works and images don't offend the public's sensibilities?
That's one of the questions the nation's Supreme Court might answer after hearing arguments Tuesday in a dispute over the fairness of FCC fines for swearing and nudity. Broadcasters contend the regulations that apply to broadcast television networks are not applied uniformly.
A variety of examples were offered in which some expletives and nudity were allowed to be broadcast while similar incidents were subjected to fines.
It does seem that the rules are not being applied equally.
But the debate over how the FCC regulates broadcast TV content bridged to the issue of whether -- given the huge number of TV channels available via cable and satellite -- content should even be regulated today.
Justice Samuel Alito said rapid technological change has effectively consigned vinyl records and 8-track tapes to the scrap heap, suggesting the same fate could come to broadcast TV. Time, he said, will eventually take care of the dispute.
Alito is correct. And, to some extent, this has already taken place.
There is hardly widespread public outrage over the specific incidents being debated, such as celebrities cursing or a few seconds of a bare bottom on a police drama. That's because stuff far more outrageous is regularly seen on cable channels that are not regulated. People realize that if they are offended on what is on one there are hundreds of other channels to choose.
That wasn't the case when the entire nation was served by a few television stations in each city broadcast over the public airways.
Government oversight isn't needed because there are plenty of family friendly alternatives.
Entertainment options are also available through the Internet and DVD rentals.
It is ultimately the responsibility of parents to take steps to make sure their children don't watch shows they consider objectionable. Many shows today contain ratings that alert the viewers to violence, nudity, etc.
Objectionable programming isn't being foisted on anybody.
In the long run, it won't make much difference which way the court rule on the issue of whether FCC regulations are applied equally because it's clear FCC oversight is no longer necessary.