Free Speech Challenge to Vast New FCC Restrictions Filed

PFAWF Joins Other First Amendment Advocates to Contest Federal Agency’s Unconstitutional Expansion of Broadcast Content Regulation

A group of individual and nonprofit free speech advocates and broadcast corporations,* including entertainers Margaret Cho and Penn & Teller, today filed a formal petition urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reverse its recent decisions to grant itself far greater authority to control and punish broadcast communications that the agency deems offensive.

“FCC does not stand for Federal Commissars of Censorship,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “The agency’s recent power grab is intended to intimidate, and it is already squelching free speech. The petition filed today is a key step in challenging the FCC’s decision to unilaterally rewrite the First Amendment.”

On March 18, 2004 the FCC reversed an order by its Enforcement Bureau involving singer Bono’s comments at the 2003 Golden Globe awards. The reversal rejected an approach that followed previous FCC rulings and considered Bono’s isolated statement in context. In issuing its decision, the FCC announced a broad new policy broadening its regulation of programming content, representing a vast and unconstitutional expansion of current law. It also announced that it would enforce its role of national moderator of good taste with punitive fines and threats to revoke broadcast licenses. The Commission has recently begun to impose huge punishing fines on broadcasters for content deemed indecent.

Among the provisions of the new rule announced by the FCC in March was one adding the term “profanity” to the types of speech the government will restrict, and defining profanity to include “blasphemous” speech.

“It is astonishing that a federal agency would take unto itself the authority to punish speech it considers blasphemous,” said Neas. “What does the First Amendment mean if federal bureaucrats can decide which public discussions are too irreverent? Which religious authorities will the FCC consult in deciding how big the fines should be for comments that offend someone’s religious sensibilities? This is America, and we do not want to go down this road.”

“There is nothing about this enforcement policy that can reasonably be characterized as cautious or restrained,” said Neas. “The Commission must reverse its frightening and unconstitutional course.”

* In addition to People For the American Way Foundation, the April 16, 2004 petition for FCC reconsideration of its new approach to regulating broadcast indecency; its newly-crafted profanity standard, and its revised enforcement procedures was filed by American Civil Liberties Union, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Beasley Broadcast Group, Inc., Citadel Broadcasting Corporation, The Creative Coalition, Directors Guild of America, Inc., Entercom Communications Corp., The First Amendment Project, Fox Entertainment Group, Inc., Freedom to Read Foundation, Margaret Cho, Media Access Project, Minnesota Public Radio, The National Coalition Against Censorship, National Federation of Community Broadcasters, Penn & Teller, Radio One, Inc., The Recording Artists' Coalition, Recording Industry Association of America, Inc., Screen Actors Guild, Viacom Inc., When in Doubt Productions, Inc., and Writers Guild of America, west.

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