Also Asks FCC for Final Action on 500 Day-Old ‘Indecent’ Label.
World-renowned playwright, poet and artist Sarah Jones today appealed the dismissal on procedural grounds of her censorship suit against the Federal Communications Commission. The appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was filed by People For the American Way Foundation and prominent New York-based media law firm Frankfurt Garbus Kurnit Klein & Selz. On September 4th, Judge Denise Cote of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York dismissed Jones’ lawsuit without reaching the merits of the case. Jones sued the FCC because the commission branded one of her works “indecent.” That designation has had a continuing chilling effect on her First Amendment right to free speech.
“Sarah Jones’ rights have been irreparably harmed by the FCC’s irresponsible conduct in this matter. We are seeking a fair hearing on this case’s merits,” said PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas. “In appealing this ruling, we are putting the FCC on notice that their system of de facto censorship is an unacceptable attack on artistic expression and the First Amendment.”
In May 2001, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL) against a non-profit Oregon public radio station that aired Jones’ signature song “Your Revolution.” The NAL labeled the song “indecent.” “Under FCC guidelines, the commission must take final action within 60 days of an NAL,” said Edward Rosenthal of Frankfurt Garbus Kurnit Klein & Selz. “But 16 months later, the FCC has still taken no further action. Result: other radio stations – fearing FCC fines – have refused to play Jones’s song,” adds Rosenthal, “harming Jones as well as the cause of free speech.”
Ms. Jones is also today filing a request with the FCC to immediately rescind its NAL and declare “Your Revolution” not indecent. In her dismissal Judge Cote said Jones could not request judicial review of the FCC’s ruling until the commission completed its ruling. The FCC’s own inaction has trapped Jones in a limbo without free speech.
“Your Revolution,” inspired by 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 says she wrote the piece “as a response to music played on mainstream radio which often treats women as sex objects and playthings.”
“The poem is a direct response to and parody of much of the popular music that dominates our country’s airwaves, often thoughtlessly encouraging casual and even dangerous sexual behavior, with a particular emphasis on degrading women sexually,” Jones said.
The suit asks 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.”