Are tough FCC indecency laws obsolete? Supreme Court hears free-speech case.
Fox and ABC say tougher FCC regulations of broadcasters regarding expletives and partial nudity are discriminatory in an age when cable and Internet programs are not similarly regulated.
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“Regulation of indecent material has been a defining feature of broadcasting since the medium’s very inception, and it is one of the enforceable public obligations that broadcasters accept in return for their free use of the public’s airwaves,” writes Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in his brief to the court.Skip to next paragraph
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“Generations of parents have relied on indecency regulations to safeguard broadcast television as a relatively safe medium for their children,” he wrote. “The rise of alternative communications media has strengthened, not undermined, that reliance interest.”
Lawyers for television broadcasters say their companies are being treated like second-class citizens by the government.
“Only broadcasting is subject to content-based censorship by the federal government,” wrote Washington lawyer Carter Phillips in his brief on behalf of Fox Television.
“To the average American viewer, broadcasting is just one source among hundreds in a media-saturated environment, a mere press of a button on the remote control away from other, fully protected sources,” Mr. Phillips said.
He said the time has come to end the special FCC regulations on broadcast content. “The FCC’s indecency regime is the antithesis of what the First Amendment permits and should be declared unconstitutional.”
Washington lawyer Seth Waxman said broadcasting is no longer uniquely pervasive and uniquely accessible to children. “The vast majority of American households receive television through cable or satellite, and therefore receive numerous non-broadcast channels to the same extent, and with the same accessibility to children, as broadcast channels,” he said in his brief on behalf of ABC.
The FCC’s tougher standards were prompted in part by a series of celebrity bloopers featuring famous folks blurting out four-letter words during televised award shows. The offenders included Bono and Cher. Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton were also recognized for their salty dialogue during the 2003 Billboard Music Awards on Fox.
The FCC also cited an episode of the ABC police drama "NYPD Blue." The program included a seven-second shot of a woman’s naked buttocks and a side view of her unclothed body as she prepared to take a shower.
The cases are FCC v. Fox Television and FCC v. ABC Inc. (10-1293).
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