Networks ask FCC to back off indecency crusade

As a constitutional challenge proceeds through the federal courts, three major TV networks last week asked the FCC to reverse its “radical new interpretation of indecency rules.”

In a combined filing with the commission, CBS, NBC and Fox asked commissioners to “reverse its radically expanded efforts to regulate through punitive forfeitures what it considers to be ‘indecent speech.’”

Echoing a theme introduced several weeks ago by FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, the networks reminded the FCC of how it originally acquired the power to regulate programming from the U.S. Supreme Court. The court narrowly upheld the commission’s right to indecency regulation only after a promise of “cautious and limited” enforcement.

The high court, the networks said, expressly excluded “isolated” uses of “potentially offensive” language — exactly the kinds of violations the FCC is now citing. Prior FCC policy, the networks said, took no action against isolated or fleeting expletives.

The FCC’s departure from restraint, the networks argued, has been “an unprecedented [and unconstitutional] intrusion into the creative and editorial process and threatens to bring about the end of truly live broadcast TV.”