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Fox, NBCU Urge Court to Examine FCC’s Indecency Motives

Dec 14, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Broadcasters, making their final pleadings before a court hears their challenge of two indecency cases next week, are urging an appellate court to scrutinize the Federal Communications Commission’s motives and impact as well as its actual action.

In papers filed in New York with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel is due to hear their appeal next Wednesday, Fox Television Stations and NBC Universal refuted the FCC’s contention that the court should limit its scrutiny. The FCC found singer Cher and actor Nicole Richie’s use of profanity on the 2002 and 2003 “Billboard Music Awards” telecasts violated broadcast indecency standards but didn’t fine Fox, saying it wanted to make the indecency line clearer to broadcasters.

Fox and the other networks want the court to look more broadly at whether the guidelines the FCC is imposing for isolated and fleeting expletives are arbitrary and unconstitutional.

“The FCC contends this case is just an adjudication of two broadcasts and that therefore it need not defend the policy as if this court should look at two trees and ignore the forest,” said Fox in its brief. “The problem for the FCC is that it has no substantial response to the numerous problems raised by its expanded interpretation of what is ‘indecent’ [and] cannot just wish these questions away.”

NBC Universal in its brief called careful examination of the commission’s conduct in other cases “essential” to deciding the case. NBC wants the court to re-examine an FCC decision that singer Bono’s use of the words “f**king brilliant” to describe an award he won on NBC’s 2003 “Golden Globe Awards” telecast was also indecent. NBC has been unable to challenge the Golden Globes ruling directly because the FCC still hasn’t acted on its petition to reconsider.

Although no fines were levied in the Billboard Music Awards cases, the networks are seeking to use the cases to challenge the FCC’s tightened indecency policy, arguing that technologies like the v-chip, available to most households, outdate the legal foundation for taking action. They also argue that the FCC’s standards are vague and are causing “a chilling effect” on content.

(Editor: Butler)