Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down FCC Indecency Rule on First Amendment Grounds

July 13, 2010

(ChattahBox)— During the eight-years under George W. Bush, the Federal Communications Commission became a diligent watchdog for the occasional baring of a breast or the uttering of a naughty word on the airwaves. The indecency campaign resulted in broadcasters being hit with steep fines with no clear guidelines defining what is “patently offensive.” Now a federal appeals court has struck down the indecency rule, declaring it’s unconstitutionally vague and violates the right of free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Major broadcasters, including Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC sued to overturn the FCC’s indecency policy. And the case was eventually remanded by the U.S. Supreme Court for further constitutional review to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The Second Circuit Court held that the indecency rule “…violates the First Amendment because it is unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.”

The court further found that the FCC’s indecency guidelines were so vague that broadcasters were forced to self censor programming to the detriment of viewers.

“Sex and the magnetic power of sexual attraction are surely among the most predominant themes in the study of humanity since the Trojan War. The digestive system and excretion are also important areas of human attention. By prohibiting all “patently offensive” references to sex, sexual organs, and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what “patently offensive” means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive. To place any discussion of these vast topics at the broadcaster’s peril has the effect of promoting wide self-censorship of valuable material which should be completely protected under the First Amendment.”

The complete Second Circuit decision can be found here.


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