New bill extends authority of FCC

Bipartisan bill introduced in the House

A bipartisan bill extending Federal Communications Commission indecency authority over fleeting expletives was introduced in the House late Tuesday.

Bill is intended as a companion to similar legislation pending in the Senate. Both bills are a response to a recent federal court decision invalidating the FCC’s new policy of citing broadcasters for fleeting expletives.

The 1978 Supreme Court decision upholding the FCC’s authority to police broadcast airwaves exempted one-time expletives in live, unscripted shows. But the commission decided last year that some words were, by definition, indecent upon one utterance. In June, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument and ordered the agency to better justify its new policy.

The FCC has yet to do so, and if the bills become law, the agency won’t have to.

“There is no reason to allow broadcast networks a free pass as long as ‘not too much’ profanity makes it on the airwaves,” Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.), one of the House bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement. “We passed legislation to keep profanity from the airwaves because parents do not want their children to see any profane images or hear any indecent language. Families should have a reasonable expectation to believe television broadcast over public airwaves will not contain indecent material, not even once.”

The American Civil Liberties Union attacked the Pickering bill, saying it “tries to replace parents with Uncle Sam. It is not up to our government to determine what is and is not ‘decent’ — that is a job for parents. We are not blind to the concerns that parents have about trash on TV, but the best solution is for parents is to turn off the television, change the channel or use a technological screening tool, not to regulate what all Americans — including the two thirds of American households without children — watch on television.”

Neither the Senate nor House bill — authored by Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) and co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) as well as Pitts — is scheduled yet for any action.

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