CBS Appeals FCC Indecency Rules

On the flipside of Stephen Spielberg’s call for less violence on television, CBS is appealing one of the FCC’s rules concerning profanity. According to an article in Tuesday’s Hollywood Reporter (h/t to Drudge, emphasis mine throughout):

CBS told a federal court Monday that the government's new "zero tolerance" policy for indecent broadcasts is threatening to choke off free speech.

In its opening brief with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, CBS contends that the commission's policy "is flatly inconsistent with the bedrock principle that First Amendment freedoms require breathing space to survive."

The article continued (reader is cautioned that some of the profanity in question is present):

The case is one of two legal battles this month that will go a long way to deciding whether the government can slap broadcasters with a big fine and threaten their licenses to operate because of a slip of the tongue. The other case is in the New York circuit and involves Nicole Richie's use of the word "shit" during the 2003 Billboard Music Awards, which aired on Fox.

[...]

At issue is the FCC policy adopted in response to U2 frontman Bono's utterance of a version of the word "fuck" during the 2003 Golden Globes broadcast.

In the Bono decision, the commission changed its definition of "fleeting" use, deciding that a certain word can be so vile that it runs afoul of the nation's indecency laws.

The commission believes it is standing on firm and logical ground with its position:

The commission contends that the fines, which totaled $550,000, were necessary because of the attention the show generated and the threat that an unrestrained Hollywood poses to American sensibilities.

"CBS continues to ignore the voices of millions of Americans, Congress and the commission by arguing that Janet Jackson's halftime performance was not indecent," FCC spokesman Clyde Ensslin said. "CBS believes there should be no limits on what can be shown on television even during family viewing events like the Super Bowl; we continue to believe they are wrong."

The article concluded:

As defined by the FCC, material is indecent if it "in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium." While obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment, indecent speech is as the federal courts and the FCC have ruled that such speech can be aired from 10 p.m.-6 a.m.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.