Court OKs FCC request for show reviews

A federal appeals court granted the Federal Communications Commission’s request for remand of a trio of indecency decisions that some broadcasters had challenged legally. Praising the court’s action, an FCC rep took a swipe at Hollywood.

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the agency to take back and review its decisions for no more than 60 days. The court also issued a stay, effectively barring some indecency penalties that could be based on these decisions while the agency reconsiders them.

Broadcasters and the FCC hailed the court ruling.

“The 2nd Circuit, in granting our stay request, has recognized the serious First Amendment issues that are raised in this appeal, and the chilling effect of the FCC’s indecency enforcement scheme,” a Fox statement said.

“We are pleased by the court’s decision,” said Tamara Lipper of the FCC. “It ensures that the commission will have the opportunity to hear all of the broadcasters’ arguments first. The court stayed only a limited portion of the order which the commission had requested to reconsider.”

Lipper added: “Hollywood argues that they should be able to say the f-word on television whenever they want. The commission continues to believe they are wrong, and there should be some limits on what can be shown on television.”

The decisions were part of a larger set of FCC rulings in March, and they involved four instances of allegedly indecent content. Shows were Fox’s 2002 and 2003 broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards; an episode of ABC’s “NYPD Blue”; and a live segment from CBS’ “Early Show.”

In the awards broadcasts and the live segment on the “Early Show,” guests uttered fleeting obscenities. The agency determined that the utterances violated indecency rules, but did not issue any fines, saying instead the agency wanted to just provide guidance for industry.

ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC (even though it didn’t have a show involved) jointly filed suit in appeals court, challenging the legality of the decisions. The FCC then asked for the cases back, saying it would listen to broadcasters’ arguments about why the incidents were not indecent.

Broadcasters split over whether the court should grant the remand. NBC, CBS and Fox and Fox’s affiliates opposed the remand, arguing that the court should settle the matter. ABC and the other network affiliates supported the remand.

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