Award-Winning Poet And Performance Artist Sarah Jones Sues Federal Communications Commission

New York Law Firm and People For the American Way Foundation Represent Artist in Censorship Case

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Attorneys for poet and performance artist Sarah Jones today filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) challenging a ruling that one of Jones’ works is "indecent." In the wake of the ruling and a threatened fine against a non-commercial educational radio station in Portland, Oregon that aired the work, other stations are refusing to air the piece. The work entitled "Your Revolution" is a protest against the degrading treatment of women in popular culture. The complaint was filed by prominent New York-based media law firm Frankfurt Garbus Kurnit Klein & Selz, P.C. and attorneys with People For the American Way Foundation.

"I wrote ‘Your Revolution’ as a response to the music on mainstream radio which often treats women as sex objects and play things. It makes no sense that the government is trying to ban a song that offers an empowering alternative to the degrading messages that play freely on the radio every day," said Jones.

Ms. Jones with attorney Lisa E. Davis (left) and
PFAWF Legal Director Elliot Mincberg.
"Your Revolution," a loose reworking of Gil Scott-Heron’s classic poem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," was recorded in 1998 with music in collaboration with the musician DJ Vadim and released on a Vadim anthology album in 1999. The complaint notes, for example, a press report that "Your Revolution" is no longer being played on a San Francisco radio station because, in the words of the program director, "that’s a song that’s been busted by the FCC."

The lawsuit criticizes the FCC for focusing on sexual terms in the work without any acknowledgment that their context is a critique of the frequently offensive treatment of women in popular hip hop music. The lawsuit notes that many of the lyrics in "Your Revolution" are direct quotes from songs that are widely played on radio stations across the country.

"Artistic censorship is never good government policy," said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. "But this act of censorship by the FCC is especially ludicrous. Sarah Jones has an educational message and the listening public should be able to hear it and form their own opinions. By declaring this song ‘indecent’ a whole range of valuable expression will be jeopardized.

Sarah Jones with Ralph G. Neas at the
PFAWF press conference.
"It is ironic that our government, which has been relentlessly critical of the messages that popular culture imparts to our youth, would seek to silence an artist who uses the medium of hip hop to preach a message of self respect and self reliance to young women and girls," said Lisa E. Davis, a partner at Frankfurt Garbus Kurnit Klein & Selz.

Jones’ lawsuit against the FCC and its chairman Michael Powell asks the Court to declare that the FCC’s ruling violates Jones’ constitutionally protected free speech rights, to declare that "Your Revolution" is not "indecent" under federal law, and to prevent the FCC from enforcing its indecency ruling against "Your Revolution."

Jones will be performing her third play entitled "Waking the American Dream" at a benefit for The National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 31. "Waking the American Dream" was commission by the Forum and the Ford Foundation, and is poised to make a United States tour later this year. Also, Jones will be performing "Surface Transit," which features the poem "Your Revolution," at the Kennedy Center from Mar. 28 through Apr. 21.

Read the complaint.

Hear Sarah Jones’ "Your Revolution" at www.sarahjonesonline.com.

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