ACLU Says Pickering Bill Treads on First Amendment

September 19, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union said today that legislation that attempts to regulate the content of television programs introduced today by Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) treads on the First Amendment. The legislation would attempt to regulate “indecent” television programming by requiring the Federal Communications Commission to implement a policy that would make a single word or image “indecent.”

“Rep. Pickering’s proposed legislation tries to replace parents with Uncle Sam. It is not up to our government to determine what is and is not ‘decent’ — that is a job for parents,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “We are not blind to the concerns that parents have about trash on TV, but the best solution is for parents is to turn off the television, change the channel or use a technological screening tool, not to regulate what all Americans — including the two thirds of American households without children — watch on television.” Fredrickson added, “regulating televisionindecency is not something the government can do well and it is not something that can be done without damaging our First Amendment rights.”

The bill would serve to overrule the court decision, Fox Television Stations vs. FCC. In Fox, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the FCC arbitrarily changed its rule regarding unexpected “fleeting expletives” on broadcast television. For thirty years, the FCC had followed the policy that “fleeting expletives” would not be considered indecent. The court ruled that the FCC changed the policy without a legally sufficient explanation. The court challenged the FCC to explain its reasoning in changing the policy, expressing doubt that the FCC could do so within the bounds of the Constitution.

“Now is the time for common sense not new unworkable regulations,” said Marvin Johnson, First Amendment Legislative Counsel. “It is likely that any regulations will violate the First Amendment rights of adults who watch television. If Uncle Sam wants a role in America’s living rooms, then Congress should consider funding media literacy education for parents and not go down this path that will only lead to more lawsuits. No children will be helped by this legislation.”

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