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The Decency Police Lose Their Day in Court

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I’m on deadline for the print TIME today–busily cutting down tiny little trees and fashioning them into words for the magazine–but I wanted to point you to yesterday’s appeals court decision striking down FCC indecency fines, which is a potentially huge step in reversing the FCC’s post-Janet indecency campaign. While the case specifically challenged “fleeting” profanities–including live-TV f-bombs by Cher and Nicole Richie–even FCC chair Kevin Martin says the ruling is likely to make it much harder for the commission to police decency generally.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m happy with any decision that undermines the FCC’s arbitrary, paternalistic efforts to decide what you and your kids should watch. Regular readers will also not be surprised by the Parents Television Council’s response to the ruling, which throws in a little bit of populist anti-urbanism for good measure:

PTC: Court OK’s F-Word In Front of Kids

[snip] … PTCâ„¢ President Tim Winter said, “As we predicted several months ago, a court in New York City has cleared the way for television networks to use the F-word and S-word in front of children at any time of the day. By a mere 2-1 margin, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has, in essence, stolen the airwaves from the public and handed ownership over to the broadcast industry.

“It was only one year ago that Congress overwhelmingly passed a law to increase broadcast indecency fines. The House passed that bill by a margin of 10:1 and the Senate passed it unanimously. Today’s ruling is a slap in the face to the American people.

“The industry was able to forum-shop and find two federal judges in New York City to impose their will on the nation. The Court’s decision runs contrary to nearly 80 years of jurisprudence about the publicly-owned airwaves, not to mention the overwhelming sense of the nation. Community decency standards should not be decided by two judges in New York.” [Emphasis added.]

Ooooh, big bad New York City! The PTC is based in Los Angeles, by the way, and seems to have no problem determining the community decency standard from that bastion of wholesome Americana. [Update: And if anyone thinks this is an East-and-West-coast-elitists-vs.-Real America issue, I refer them to Aaron Barnhart in the vast coastal metropolis of Kansas City.]

Regardless, the most interesting line of reasoning the court offered was that the fines were unjustifiable in the light of recent, public profanity by none other than the President (who last year spoke the s-word on an open mic to Tony Blair) and Vice President (who invited Sen. Patrick Leahy to go f___ himself). “In recent times even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced ‘sexual or excretory organs or activities,’” the decision read.

The PTC can badmouth evil New York City all it wants. But it may want to save some blame for Crawford, Texas.

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