Court strikes down FCC indecency policy

Tue Jul 13, 2010 6:02pm EDT
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By Grant McCool

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's indecency policy is unconstitutionally vague and could create a chilling effect beyond "fleeting expletives" heard on broadcasts, an appeals court ruled on Tuesday in a major win for broadcasting companies.

The ruling, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, arose after Bono, frontman for the rock band U2, used what the FCC calls "the F-word expletive" during the live broadcast of the 2003 Golden Globe Awards.

News Corp's Fox Television, CBS Corp's CBS Broadcasting and others challenged an FCC ruling in 2004 that on-air expletives that were not bleeped out were indecent and their use could be penalized.

The FCC regulates radio, television, wire, satellite and cable communications. In a statement, chairman Julius Genachowski said: "We're reviewing the court's decision in light of our commitment to protect children, empower parents, and uphold the First Amendment."

The U.S. Supreme Court had weighed in on the case in 2009, ruling that the FCC had the authority to regulate profanity on the nation's air waves. The high court declined, however, to decide whether the FCC's policy violated First Amendment guarantees of free speech and returned the case to the Second Circuit for a decision on that aspect of the policy.

"We now hold that the FCC's policy violates the First Amendment because it is unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here," the panel of appeals court judges said in a written ruling on Tuesday.

Broadcasters and some free-speech advocacy groups welcomed the ruling.

But the Parents TV Council, an advocacy group founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell, criticized the decision, saying broadcast decency law was clear in requiring that indecent material could be broadcast only at times when children are not likely to be in the audience.   Continued...