Watchdogs petition court for free speech rights


The FCC just revived interest in the Janet Jackson CBS v. FCC case at the Third Circuit; now a pair of watchdogs are teaming together to revive interest in the fleeting expletive Fox v. FCC case at the Second Circuit.

The Media Institute and The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression argued in a friend of the court brief that the First Amendment protects broadcast fleeting expletives.

The duo put forth three principles:

“First, the expression at issue here is fully protected by the First Amendment, since it falls within none of the exceptions the Supreme Court has recognized and consistently applied in free speech and free press cases.

“Second, the standards which the Commission applied to these respondents far exceed the limited scope of the Supreme Court’s prior tolerance for regulation, even in the special circumstances of licensed broadcasting.

“Third, any vital and pertinent interests of our society may be effectively protected by standards that comport with the rigorous safeguards of the First Amendment.”

The watchdogs noted that the Supreme Court has traditionally held that there regulation of indecency and profanity is very limited, and argue that the FCC also held this view until Michael Powell suddenly changed the rules after the twin events of f-bombs flying at live awards programs and the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident.

RBR/TVBR observation: The FCC guidelines on indecency released by Michael Powell make it clear as day that the Commission gave a certain amount of latitude in this area, up to and including the dreaded f-bomb. And the latitude wasn’t just for unpredictable guests and rock musicians and bystanders who got too near a live mic – it allowed for slip-ups of news anchors letting loose a curse after flubbing a line and other inadvertent utterances from other equally respectable sources. Thanks, Media Institute and Thomas Jefferson Center, for standing up for free speech.