Judge Dismisses Award-Winning Poet Sarah Jones' Censorship Suit Against FCC on Procedural Grounds

Agency Withholds Final Ruling Against Broadcaster Who Aired Jones’ Song, Paralyzing Legal Action

On September 4th, Judge Denise Cote of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York dismissed on procedural grounds Sarah Jones’ lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission. Jones was suing because the FCC branded her work “indecent” in a ruling against a broadcaster, and that designation has had a continuing chilling effect on her First Amendment right to free speech.

People For the American Way Foundation and the media law firm of Frankfurt Garbus Kurnit Klein and Selz, P.C. filed the complaint on Jones’ behalf in January, 2002.

In May 2001, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) against an Oregon public radio station that aired Jones’ signature song “Your Revolution.” The NAL labeled the song “indecent.” FCC guidelines advise that the commission must follow-up the issuance of an NAL with final action within 60 days. Instead, over 16 months later, the FCC has taken no further action, and other radio stations have refused to play Jones’ song out of fear of fines or penalties from the FCC.

“Sarah Jones’ rights have been irreparably harmed by the FCC’s irresponsible conduct in this matter. They have improperly branded her song ‘indecent,’ and then through their own inaction denied her the opportunity for prompt judicial review that the First Amendment requires,” said PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas. “It is a travesty that this poet’s right to free speech is being trampled.”

“Your Revolution,” a loose reworking of Gil Scott-Heron’s poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” was recorded in 1998 with music in collaboration with DJ Vadim and released on Vadim’s 1999 anthology. Jones, a popular feminist poet and artist says she wrote the piece “as a response to music played on mainstream radio which often treats women as sex objects and playthings.” Ironically, her song aims to educate and empower women about these negative images.

The suit asked the court to declare that the FCC’s ruling violated 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 remains committed to fighting the “indecent” label and addressing the flawed FCC system that has locked up her rights at the commission’s whim. Her lawyers at PFAWF and Frankfurt Garbus are consulting with the artist about next steps, including a possible appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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