TV Regulators Appeal Court Decision Striking Down FCC's Policy on Decency

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission asked a federal appeals court to re-consider its decision striking down penalties for profanity in broadcasting as a violation of television networks’ free speech rights.

The FCC asked for a new hearing on a July ruling by a panel of federal appeals judges in Manhattan. The regulators also asked, in the alternative, for a hearing by the full U.S. Court of Appeals in New York.

Media companies had challenged the agency’s move to fine them for “fleeting expletives,” profanities uttered spontaneously by performers during live TV broadcasts. The rule was imposed after on-air outbursts by celebrities including singers Bono and Cher.

“The FCC and the Justice Department are today asking the federal court of appeals in New York to reconsider its decision in Fox v. FCC,” said FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick in a statement.

‘Indecent Broadcast’

“The three-judge panel’s decision in July raised serious concerns about the commission’s ability to protect children and families from indecent broadcast programming,” Schlick said.

The three-judge panel said in its decision that the FCC policy violates the First Amendment because it was “unconstitutionally vague.” U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote on behalf of the panel that the policy created “a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.”

The four major networks -- News Corp.’s Fox, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, CBS Corp.’s CBS and General Electric Co.’s NBC -- took part in the challenge.

The FCC said in court papers that the ruling “strikes at the heart” of longstanding context-based approach to indecency enforcement and precludes the commission from enforcing federal broadcast indecency restrictions.

The case is Fox Television Stations Inc. v. FCC, 06-1760, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Patricia Hurtado in U.S. District Court in Manhattan at pathurtado@bloomberg.net.

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