Five philosophically diverse tech policy organizations have called for an end to the FCC’s censorship of television broadcasting as a violation of the First Amendment.
In a joint amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in FCC v. Fox , TechFreedom, Public Knowledge, the Cato Institute, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have asked the Court to recognize that advances in technology have made obsolete the current television indecency standards, which stem from the decision in the 1978 “Seven Dirty Words” case ( FCC v. Pacifica ).
In that decision, the Court held that broadcasting was so “pervasive” in American society and “invasive” as an “intruder” in the home, that parents had little ability to protect their children from potentially indecent material. Thus, the Court concluded that protecting children required allowing the FCC to censor broadcast content. The following can be attributed to all five organizations:
The Digital Revolution has transformed the world since 1978, when broadcasting pervaded American life. Today, fewer than one in seven Americans rely only on over-the-air TV. Broadcasting is no longer an unwanted “intruder,” but one of many forms of media that parents can chose to invite into their homes. From broadcasting to cable to video games to the Internet, technology has empowered parents to enforce their own household standards for appropriate content. The Court should extend full First Amendment protection to broadcast just as it did in 2000 for cable content, when it boldly declared that “Technology expands the capacity to choose; and it denies the potential of this revolution if we assume the Government is best positioned to make these choices for us.”
The Court’s decision in FCC v. Fox will determine whether the government can continue to treat broadcast content differently from speech in other media, including newspapers, cable, and the Internet, by requiring broadcasters to censor “fleeting expletives” or face hefty fines.