Appeals court fast tracks FCC indecency case

A federal appeals court considering the challenge by broadcasters for the FCC’s indecency policies has scheduled a quick, pre-Christmas hearing.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has scheduled oral arguments for Dec. 20 in CBS and Fox cases challenging four FCC decisions involving on-air profanity made last March. Plaintiff and defendant attorneys will each have 12 minutes to argue their positions.

In the meantime, judges hearing the various FCC indecency challenges are getting an earful from parties interested in the outcome of the cases. Last week, a coalition of 20 free speech organizations, community broadcasters, filmmakers, performers and writers filed a brief urging judges to overturn FCC policy that applied new standards for censoring indecency and profanity.

The groups urged judges to throw out the FCC’s censorship scheme altogether, arguing, “the FCC’s efforts to regulate in this area have proven to be constitutionally unworkable.” Also joining the fight were two former FCC officials, both of whom argued to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, another court involved in the FCC cases, that the commission’s current indecency enforcement violates the First Amendment.

Henry Geller, a former FCC general counsel, and Glen Robinson, a former commissioner, charged that the commission is on a censorship “crusade” that will chill even the blandest programming.