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FCC’s appeal of indecency case applauded


WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-family advocates applauded the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to appeal a court ruling they fear could open broadcast television to the use of even more profanities and obscenities.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filed a petition with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, asking the judges to reconsider their July opinion striking down the agency’s broadcast indecency policy. A three-judge panel unanimously ruled the FCC’s approach to overseeing obscene or profane language is “unconstitutionally vague.”

The FCC’s petition is the latest act in a case that has gone up and down the federal court system in recent years. The Fox Channel and other networks sued the FCC after the commission found live Fox broadcasts of the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards programs violated decency standards by use of the “f-word” and/or “s-word.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the FCC petition “a tremendous step in the right direction.”

“Clearly, the entire economy of broadcast television is based upon the fact that people seeing a product for thirty seconds will cause them to change their buying habits. They’re called commercials,” Land told Baptist Press. “So, obviously, what you view has an impact on your behavior and your attitudes.

“We as a society have been derelict in not better protecting our children and young people from salacious and violent material on our airwaves,” he said. “One would hope that the judges would come to their senses and make the right decision for America’s young people.”


Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said the courts must “reaffirm the FCC’s statutory authority.”

“The importance of the broadcast decency law has become abundantly apparent as the broadcast networks demonstrate their desire to push ever-more graphic content at all times of the day,” Winter said in a written statement. “The airwaves have become a battleground for networks to out-cuss, out-sex and out-gore each other, and sadly it is children and families who are in the crossfire.”

Primetime broadcast TV is expected to contain even more possibly offensive content this fall, according to news reports. The Hollywood Reporter said it “is going to be chock-a-block with even more blatant sexuality and raunchy language. It’s a trend that’s been a long time coming and is now accelerating.” Among programs likely to push the envelope are NBC’s “Friends With Benefits” and CBS’ “$#*! My Dad Says.”

The case, Fox v. FCC, began in the courts after the commission announced a new policy in ruling against the network for the use of “fleeting expletives.” Previously, an indecent word had to be used repeatedly for the FCC to find a broadcaster in violation. If it allowed the singular use of expletives, widespread usage of those words on TV would follow, the FCC said in defending its revised policy.

The Second Circuit ruled the policy change was “arbitrary and capricious” in a 2007 opinion, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision in 2009 and sent the case back to the appeals court. The high court did not rule on the FCC policy’s constitutional worthiness but said the FCC had the authority to prohibit certain indecent language, even in a one-time instance.

In July of this year, the Second Circuit again ruled against the FCC, saying its indecency policy did not provide appropriate guidance to broadcasters on what is “patently offensive” material. The court also said the FCC did not apply its policy equally to all broadcast programming.

In its petition, filed Aug. 26, the FCC said, “Because the Commission applies the same contextual framework in every indecency case, the [judges’] decision appears to disapprove application of the agency’s judicially approved indecency approach in any contest.” The judges’ opinion “threatens to have a wide-ranging adverse impact on the FCC’s ability to enforce federal statutory restrictions on the broadcast of indecent material,” the commission said in asking for a rehearing by either the three-judge panel or the entire court.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article.