Broadcasters Challenge Indecency Rules
April 19, 2004

Calling the indecency crackdown "sweeping and unconstitutional," a broad coalition of broadcasters, artists, public interest and professional organizations asked the FCC today to reconsider its recent Golden Globe Awards decision. Among the broadcasters filing the joint petition are Viacom, Entercom, Citadel, Radio One, Beasley, Minnesota Public Radio, and Fox Entertainment Group. They're joined by a diverse group of legal and creative organizations, including the ACLU, AFTRA, RIAA, Media Access ProjectScreen Actors Guild, and People For The American Way Foundation -- even the magician duo Penn & Teller.

The industry's first legal challenge to the FCC over indecency, the petition specifically addresses the Commission's over-ruling of its own staff -- an over-ruling that declared Bono's Golden Globes F-bomb was both indecent and profane. However,  it paints the FCC's stepped-up enforcement in much broader strokes, arguing that it is "chilling free speech across the broadcast landscape."  

"The Commission's harsh new policy has sent shock waves through the media industry, forcing broadcasters to censor speech that is protected by the First Amendment," said Robert Corn-Revere, partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, which is representing the group. "The Supreme Court requires clear guidance, a narrow focus and a light regulatory hand. The FCC may not trample on the rights of the public to see and hear the programming it wants for those who favor censorship." 

The coalition claims that vague and overly broad regulation is allowing the FCC to engage in "subjective enforcement" and forcing broadcasters to restrict programming to material that's unquestionably safe. It notes the mad rush to abandon live programming, and how radio stations are editing and censoring song lyrics -- including many they've played, without listener complaints, for years. (In the current issue of FMQB magazine, we report on radio's widespread editing of songs, from Alice In Chains' "Man In The Box" and Disturbed's "Down With The Sickness" to The Who's "Who Are You" and Rod Stewart's Hot Legs.")  

The coalition notes how the Commission-induced chill resulted in the cancellation of this year's Victoria's Secret fashion show, the editing of an episode of ER and the abandonment of some serious documentaries by public television stations. 

NBC, which carries The Golden Globe Awards, is filing its own petition.

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