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FCC Files Brief Defending Indecency Stance

Dec 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday defended its profanity-related indecency actions against Fox for Nicole Richie and Cher’s swear words on the Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003, telling an appellate court that broadcasters are distracting attention from the case’s central issues because they don’t have good answers to them.

“This case involves only two FCC adjudications-that Fox’s broadcasts of the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards were indecent and profane,” the FCC said in its brief filed Wednesday in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. “Those adjudications and those adjudications alone are before the court. … The court should reject Fox’s effort to change the subject.”

The indecency case stems from the FCC’s March 15 order attempting to set clearer guidelines on indecency. As part of the order the FCC ruled the two programs were indecent, but didn’t fine Fox stations, saying it wanted to make clearer to broadcasters what it considers indecent.

In Wednesday’s filing, the FCC indicated its suggestion of extraneous issues referred in part to broadcasters’ arguments that the findings were an arbitrary change in the FCC’s longtime indecency policy about use of fleeting expletives and that the growing impact of cable households should alter what should be viewed as violating local community standards. The filing also addressed other network arguments.

“In an attempt to use this case as a springboard for mounting a wholesale assault on the federal broadcast indecency statute and regulations, the networks invite this court to issue a series of advisory opinions on matters not before it,” the FCC said in its brief.

The FCC also contended that the networks’ claims that the commission was inconsistently vague by allowing profanity in “Saving Private Ryan” but not on a PBS station’s documentary was not before the court and further rested on an artistic expression issue that wasn’t a factor in the Fox cases. The FCC disputed contentions that its treatment of the f-word is inconsistent with its treatment of other coarse words and said that contrary to warnings that news could no longer be presented live, it had distinguished between live newscasts and entertainment programming.