Civil Liberties

Time Warner Stands Up for Fleeting Indecency (A.K.A. Free Speech)!


Last year, a federal appeals court struck down the FCC's policy on "fleeting indecency," through which the agency was fining broadcast stations for occasional fucks and shits, mostly on awards shows (thank you, Cher!). The FCC's crackdown in recent years, notes Multichannel News, "reversed three decades of precedent in which only repetitive and lengthy acts of indecency were considered violations" worthy of fines.

The Supreme Court is reviewing that ruling and Time Warner, which is spinning off its cable franchise operation but owns HBO and various production companies, cable channels, and websites, is speaking out against the FCC policy. And, perhaps more importantly, against attempts to extend broadcast-style content regulation to cable and satellite, the dream of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. In court papers, Time Warner argues:

"This court should never lose its vigilance to prevent restrictions on broadcast speech from spawning copycat restrictions on non-broadcast speech….Members of the FCC at various times have expressed an interest in obtaining the authority to regulate the content of cable television speech as well as broadcast television speech….In light of the tools available to allow viewers to choose what cable speech to hear and not here, the government cannot possibly establish that content-based restrictions on such speech pass First Amendment muster."

More here.

Extending content regulation to pay services such as cable and satellite (or to the Internet, which is the Clinton-era Communications Decency Act would have done had most of it not been struck down by the courts) is a real and potent threat from both sides of the legislative aisle. It's good to see a major corporation, however self-interested, speaking out in favor of freedom of expression.

reason on the FCC.