On Tuesday, the Second Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s indecency policy. This ruling is a great victory for all those who are proponents of free speech.
The court ruled against the FCC on the basis of “vagueness” within the FCC’s policy. The court ruled that vagueness could be a means of suppressing a wide arrange of protected speech. The court found many examples of self-censorship on behalf of broadcast networks due to their fear of fines and investigations on behalf of the FCC if obscenities were to occur. There were even cases of self-censorship involving programs that didn’t contain “expletives but which contained reference to or discussion of sex, sexual organs, or excretion.”
Examples of this self-censorship include Fox’s decision not to re-broadcast an episode of “The 70s Show” dealing with dialogue of a sexual nature, the refusal by some affiliates to broadcast a 9/11 documentary due to its inclusion of vulgar language from firefighters, and even a local station in Vermont refusing to air a political debate because one participant had a past experience with using profanity on the air.
The court also found that the FCC was being discriminatory in how they were applying their indecency policy. For example, the FCC found the profanity in the fictional movie “Saving Private Ryan,” integral to the “realism and immediacy of the film experience for viewers.” However, in a musical documentary entitled “The Blues” the same profanity used in “Saving Private Ryan” was deemed not integral to the realism of that particular broadcast and, as a result, was censored.
These are just some of the countless examples of how the FCC, an independent government agency, restricts our basic rights. The first amendment grants to all US citizens the right to free speech; however, the FCC has ignored the Constitution in their efforts to regulate speech. These kinds of laws should not exist in the first place as they create a climate of fear for businesses, leading to self-censorship.
Therefore, we are extremely pleased that the court ruled against the FCC. While we understand some speech may not be appropriate for children, parents should be the ones controlling what their children watch, not the government.
This blog post was created by Libertarian National Committee Interns Marissa Giannotta and Josh Roll