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Media groups ask FCC to reconsider NBC indecency ruling

Charging that a politically motivated campaign against indecency is having a chilling effect on television and radio programming, a group representing 24 major media organizations and individual performers have asked the FCC to reconsider its ruling against NBC for violating decency standards.

The move, which came in a petition filed with the FCC last week, is widely viewed as the first step in a lawsuit to block the government’s efforts based on First Amendment grounds. The FCC is not expected to reverse itself, but the petition is required before a court proceeding can begin.

The groups protesting the FCC’s indecency initiative include a wide range of media companies, including Viacom, News Corp. and the American Civil Liberties Union. It also includes the biggest union representing television performers; the three Hollywood guilds representing actors, directors and writers; and individual entertainers such as comedian Margaret Cho and magicians Penn and Teller.

Robert Corn-Revere, the First Amendment lawyer who filed the petition on behalf of the groups, told the New York Times that the FCC decision had moved the policing of offensive speech away from what previous court decisions had intended. "It was meant to be cautious; now it’s become expansive and draconian."

He said the decision left open the possibility that any live news event, like a war protest at one of the political conventions this year where someone uttered a vulgarity, or any live sports event where fans hold up signs containing objectionable words, could leave a broadcaster subject to serious fines.

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