Appeals court tosses FCC’s indecency rule

The ruling details a 2004
change in the FCC’s policy after U2 band member Bono used an expletive upon
receiving an award at the 2003 Golden Globes. The FCC responded by levying
record fines against broadcasters for fleeting expletives uttered on live
television. The court found that the threat of heavy fines for merely carrying
live events where expletives occur amounts to de facto self-censorship for
broadcasters in violation of the Constitution.

“We’re reviewing the court’s decision in light of our commitment to protect children, empower parents, and uphold the First Amendment,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement.

“If the FCC’s policy is
allowed to remain in place, there will undoubtedly be countless other
situations where broadcasters will exercise their editorial judgment and
decline to pursue contentious people or subjects, or will eschew live
programming altogether, in order to avoid the FCC’s fines,” states the ruling. “This
chill reaches speech at the heart of the First Amendment.”

“The score for today’s game
is First Amendment one, censorship zero,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, policy
director at Media Access Project. “The next stop is the Supreme Court, and we’re
confident that the Justices will affirm this decision.”

The broadcast industry, which
joined together to file the original lawsuit, cheered the announcement. The
Supreme Court upheld the policy last year on procedural grounds but did not
address the constitutional arguments.

“We believe that responsible decision making by network and
local station executives, coupled with program-blocking technologies like the
V-chip, is far preferable to government regulation of program content,” said
National Association of Broadcasters executive vice president Dennis Wharton.

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