It’s time the Federal Communications Commission got out of the business of policing the airwaves, a bipartisan trio of former FCC chairmen told the Supreme Court.
The three ex-toppers — Newton Minow, appointed by John F. Kennedy; Mark Fowler, appointed by Ronald Reagan; and James Quello, an acting chairman during the Clinton administration — argued their point in a brief supporting Fox TV in its upcoming Supreme Court case involving an FCC policy holding broadcasters responsible for fleeting expletives. A lower court struck down that policy last year.
The brief argued that the fleeting expletives case was just the latest example of the FCC having expanded a previous policy of restrained enforcement brought only in extreme cases into “an enforcement program that has all the earmarks of a Victorian crusade. To effectuate its new clean-up-the-airwaves policy, the commission has radically expanded the definition of indecency beyond its original conception; magnified the penalties for even minor, ephemeral images or objectionable language; and targeted respected television programs, movies and even noncommercial documentaries.”
The high court must do more than just affirm the lower court’s rejection of the fleeting expletives policy, the former chairmen wrote. “As former regulators we appreciate that the FCC is in an uncomfortable position, buffeted by the turbulent passions of anxious parents and threats from excited congressmen. But that is precisely why the matter must be taken out of the agency’s hands entirely.”
The case is skedded for oral arguments on Nov. 4.