Entries in Federal Communications Commission (4)


Supreme Court Hearing on Indecency Leaves One Justice Blushing

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In an hour-long argument punctuated by lively exchanges and even one blushing justice, the Supreme Court grappled on Tuesday with the government’s policy on indecency on the airwaves.

The case stems from celebrities -- such as Cher and Nicole Richie -- uttering swear words during live television in primetime, as well as an episode of ABC’s show NYPD Blue that depicted partial nudity.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- charged with regulating the public airwaves -- found that the incidents violated its prohibitions against the broadcast of indecent material before 10 p.m.

But lawyers for broadcasters such as Fox Television and ABC, Inc., argue that the FCC’s policy is unconstitutionally vague and chills free speech. Facing daunting fines, the broadcasters argue that the government should no longer treat broadcast speech more restrictively than other media when it comes to the regulation of indecency over the airwaves.

The eight justices hearing the case (Justice Sonia Sotomayor was recused because she dealt with the issue as a lower court judge) showcased several aspects of the dilemma.

Justice Antonin Scalia most vocally defended the government’s position that the policy serves an important interest in protecting children from indecency.

Chief Justice John Roberts, the only justice with small children, suggested that the broadcast networks are a safe harbor for parents hoping to shield their children from indecency.

Justice Anthony Kennedy brought up a core issue, and a key part of the broadcasters' argument, regarding the pervasiveness of cable and the Internet.

Kennedy asked Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., “But you’re saying that there’s still a value, an importance, in having a higher standard...for broadcast media. Why is that, when there are so many other options?”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the FCC’s policy problem seemed to be “an appearance of arbitrariness about how the FCC is defining indecency in concrete situations."

She pointed out that the government allowed the use of expletives in the broadcast of Steven Spielberg’s war movie Saving Private Ryan.

Justice Elena Kagan said, “The way this policy seems to work, it’s like nobody can use dirty words or nudity except for Steven Spielberg.”

The broadcasters urge the court to overturn 34-year-old precedent in a case called FCC v. Pacifica Foundation. At issue in that case was a broadcast of comedian George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue which was aired on a radio broadcast in the middle of the afternoon. After complaints from the public, the FCC ruled that the broadcast was indecent and could be subject to sanctions. The Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to the FCC’s determination, finding “of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection.”

Carter G. Phillips, arguing on behalf of Fox Television, said that the FCC’s policies, which have been expanded since the Pacifica decision, have caused “thousands and thousands” of complaints so that “the whole system has come to a screeching halt because of the difficulty of trying to resolve these issues.”

One of the most humorous exchanges during the argument came when Seth Waxman, representing ABC, noted that the FCC has a pending complaint about an opening episode of the last Olympics, which included a naked statue similar to those actually depicted in the courtroom walls.

The justices began to look at the marble friezes in the courtroom depicting statues of historical figures.
“Right over here, Justice Scalia,” Waxman said pointing to the wall, “there’s a bare buttock there, and there’s a bare buttock here....Frankly, I had never focused on it before.”

“Me neither,” said a laughing, blushing Scalia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court to Take Up Cher’s Use of the 'F Word'

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When the entertainer Cher launched an expletive on live broadcast television in 2002, she probably had little idea she was triggering a major test of the government’s ability to regulate content over the public airwaves.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case stemming from celebrities’ use of isolated expletives as well as images of partial nudity during primetime broadcast programming. The case involves Cher’s use of the F word on a Fox broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards and a similar outburst the following year on the same awards show by actress Nicole Richie.

The Court will also review an episode of ABC’s NYPD Blue that featured a seven-second shot of an adult woman’s nude buttocks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), charged with regulating public airwaves, found that the incidents violated its prohibitions against the broadcast of indecent material before 10 p.m.

At issue before the Court is whether the FCC’s current indecency-enforcement policy violates the Constitution.  A lower court struck it down, ruling it was “impermissibly vague.”  Fox Television, ABC, Inc. and other broadcasters argue that the current policy is arbitrary and puts a chill on broadcast speech.

“The FCC's current enforcement policy, which subjects even isolated expletives or brief, scripted images to multi-million-dollar fines, cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny,” argues Carter G. Philipps in court papers on behalf of Fox Television Stations INC.

The broadcasters are urging the Court to overturn a 34-year-old precedent in a case called FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.  At issue in that case was a broadcast of comedian George Carlin’s “filthy words” monologue, aired on a radio broadcast in the middle of the afternoon.  After complaints from the public, the FCC ruled that the broadcast was indecent and could be subject to sanctions.

The Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to the FCC’s determination, finding, “of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection.”  The Court ruled narrowly, finding in part that the broadcast medium is unique because, “material presented over the airwaves confronts the citizen, not only in public but in the privacy of the home.”  The Court also found that,“broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children.”

But the broadcasters currently argue that much has changed since Pacifica was decided and that they should no longer be regulated more restrictively than other media such as cable and the Internet.

“Pacifica justified reduced First Amendment scrutiny of broadcast indecency regulation on the theory that broadcasting was uniquely pervasive and uniquely accessible to children,” writes Seth P. Waxman, an attorney representing ABC, Inc. “Neither predicate is true today.”

Waxman points out that today the vast majority of households receive television through cable or satellite and are exposed to the Internet.

“Over the past three decades,” Phillips writes, “the media marketplace has changed dramatically, thoroughly undermining Pacifica’s rational for its unequal treatment of broadcast speech under the First Amendment.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Net Neutrality: FCC Adopts Rules for Open Internet 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A narrowly divided Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved bold new rules Tuesday aimed at preventing broadband service providers from censoring how individuals and organizations can surf the Internet's fastest pipes. 

The so-called "net neutrality" regulations prohibit the suppliers of Internet connections to millions of American homes and offices from blocking access to certain websites, applications or services so long as they are legal.

Companies will also be required to publicly disclose information on their practices, performance characteristics and commercial ties.

But the rules do allow Internet providers to engage in "reasonable network management," meaning they can take steps to regulate traffic and congestion over their connections.

Critics warn those steps could include implementation of usage-based pricing for accessing the Internet at home and preferential treatment for companies that pay extra for "fast-lanes." They say service providers could also begin to pick and choose which websites can run faster than others over their networks.

Opponents of the FCC's new authority also cite that back in April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. ruled that the agency lacked the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic on their networks.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


FCC May Allow You to Send Text Messages to 911

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- Several U.S. government agencies have for some time been considering how to plan and implement the next generation of 911. The plan has been to incorporate SMS text messaging, images and even video into emergency requests to get "the right information to the right people at the right time."

Now, several outlets are reporting that the FCC is pushing for more technology for 911 -- technology that would lead to better, faster responses from emergency workers. In fact, the FCC even says 911 could be automatically notified of possible or likely emergencies by sensors, from OnStar to home alarms and many more.

The "Next Gen 911" project, which, according to, is actually under the auspices of the Department of Transportation, "draws on the expertise of public safety experts to identify and prioritize digital data, potentially available to first responders...which could best improve their safety and performance," according to the Transportation Safety Advancement Group, the organization that is tasked with carrying out these changes.

While texting 911 when an emergency arises seems like a grand idea (and the next logical step for 911), it may be a while before this marriage between emergency response and technology is a reality. Look for a white paper from the TSAG in February 2011 -- this paper will present the recommendations of first responders regarding the kind of information they would want and need from a more digitally oriented 911 service.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio