Fox Wins Allies In FCC Indecency Fight

Fox, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Progress & Freedom Foundation charge that the FCC makes it easy for small, vocal groups to block content they don't like.
Two online advocacy groups joined Fox Television's lawsuits challenging Federal Communications Commission rulings on indecency, arguing that the FCC's loose standards makes it easy for small, vocal groups to block content they don't like.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, which doesn't normally get involved in broadcast matters, announced that it had joined the Progress & Freedom Foundation in filing amicus briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals 2nd and 3rd circuits Thursday.

"The FCC's increasingly aggressive attempts to control speech on the radio and television are on a collision course with a wave of technological change that will soon render the commission's involvement in these matters obsolete," CDT Staff Counsel John Morris said. "As the distinctions between broadcast and digital media fade into history, policy makers, technologists, and civil libertarians must work together to ensure that the light-touch approach to Internet communications, and not the outdated rules for broadcast, becomes the standard for regulation in the converged media world."

The groups argue that the FCC's indecency rulings violate the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedures Act. They claim the FCC fails to identify the "community standards" applied as a test for indecency, making it easy for small vocal groups to block content that they do not like.

The FCC acknowledges that it has strengthened enforcement in recent years. In 2004, it drew $8 million in fines from 12 cases. However, the FCC maintains that is protects First Amendment rights and respects broadcasters' freedom of speech. It also publishes explanations of how it determines whether material is indecent or obscene.

The CDT and PFF also are questioning the FCC's authority to enforce indecency standards. They claim that the FCC gained its authority to restrict broadcast material during an era when families couldn't control media content in their homes.

"That is simply not the case in the digital world, and the FCC cannot be allowed to extend its archaic authority to other technologies, where user control is a built-in function," the CDT and PFF explained in a joint statement.

Adam Theier, senior fellow and director of the Center for Digital Media Freedom at PFF, said that, with the V-chip and other filtering technologies, the government "no longer has a compelling interest in imposing an amorphous community standard on Americans."

The PFF, CDT, Fox and other broadcasters want federal judges to overturn FCC indecency rulings.