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Freedom From Bleeps

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November 4, 2008

This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in FCC v. Fox, a.k.a. the “fleeting expletives” case. At issue is whether the FCC adequately justified its change in policy towards “fleeting expletives” in broadcast television. (We offered a brief history of this case when we learned the high court would hear it.) In a nutshell, we contend that the FCC’s new policy towards fleeting expletives has been unpredictable, arbitrary and inconsistent with the First Amendment.

We were reminded of the value of free speech—fleeting expletives and all—this summer when George Carlin passed away. Carlin was at the heart of the last case the Supreme Court heard on this issue back in 1978 in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.

We also remarked on the “chilling effect” of the FCC’s new policy: WBAI radio declined to air a reading of Allen Ginsburg’s poem, “Howl,” last year, on the 50th anniversary of a San Francisco Municipal Court ruling that the poem was not obscene. PBS also felt the chill, nearly pulling Ken Burns’ 14 ½-hour WWII documentary for containing three indecent words.

Our D.C. office has been closely following bills in the House and Senate that would essentially codify the FCC’s unconstitutional policy. This is what we think of the Senate bill.

We hope the Supreme Court — and Congress — choose to keep the FCC out of our living rooms.

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