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FCC v Fox and Future of First Amendment (Thierer-PFF)

FCC v Fox and Future of First Amendment (Thierer-PFF)

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Published by Adam Thierer
On November 4th, 2008, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the potentially historic free speech case of Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. This case, which originated in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, deals with the FCC’s new policy for “fleeting expletives” on broadcast television. The FCC lost and appealed to the Supreme Court. By contrast, the so-called “Janet Jackson case”—CBS v. FCC—was heard in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The FCC also lost that case and has also petitioned the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s ruling.

These two cases reflect an old and odd tension in American media policy and First Amendment jurisprudence. Words and images presented over one medium—in this case broadcast television—are regulated differently than when transmitted through any other media platform (such as newspapers, cable TV, DVDs, or the Internet). Various rationales have been put forward in support of this asymmetrical regulatory standard. Those rationales have always been weak, however. Worse yet, those rationales have opened the door to an array of other regulatory shenanigans, such as the so-called Fairness Doctrine, and many other media marketplace restrictions.

Whatever sense this arrangement made in the past, technological and marketplace developments are now calling into question the wisdom and efficacy of the traditional broadcast industry regulatory paradigm. This article will explore both the old and new rationales for differential First Amendment treatment of broadcast television and radio operators and conclude that those rationales: (1) have never been justified, and (2) cannot, and should not, survive in our new era of media abundance and technological convergence.
On November 4th, 2008, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the potentially historic free speech case of Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. This case, which originated in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, deals with the FCC’s new policy for “fleeting expletives” on broadcast television. The FCC lost and appealed to the Supreme Court. By contrast, the so-called “Janet Jackson case”—CBS v. FCC—was heard in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The FCC also lost that case and has also petitioned the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s ruling.

These two cases reflect an old and odd tension in American media policy and First Amendment jurisprudence. Words and images presented over one medium—in this case broadcast television—are regulated differently than when transmitted through any other media platform (such as newspapers, cable TV, DVDs, or the Internet). Various rationales have been put forward in support of this asymmetrical regulatory standard. Those rationales have always been weak, however. Worse yet, those rationales have opened the door to an array of other regulatory shenanigans, such as the so-called Fairness Doctrine, and many other media marketplace restrictions.

Whatever sense this arrangement made in the past, technological and marketplace developments are now calling into question the wisdom and efficacy of the traditional broadcast industry regulatory paradigm. This article will explore both the old and new rationales for differential First Amendment treatment of broadcast television and radio operators and conclude that those rationales: (1) have never been justified, and (2) cannot, and should not, survive in our new era of media abundance and technological convergence.

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Published by: Adam Thierer on Feb 20, 2009
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05/10/2014

 
February 2009 
 
143
FCC v. Fox 
and the Future of the First Amendment in the Information Age
By Adam Tierer* 
 *
Adam Tierer is a senior fellow with Te Progress & Freedom Foundationand the director of its Center for Digital Media Freedom. He is the author of Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of ools and  Methods (Te Progress & Freedom Foundation, 2009), and the co-author with Brian Anderson of A Manifesto for Media Freedom (Encounter Books, 2008).
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 N 4

, 2008,  S C          
Federal Communications Commission v. Fox elevi-sion Stations, Inc.
T ,     SC C  A,    FCC’    “fl ”   . T FCC     S C. B ,  -“J J ”—
CBS v. FCC 
—    TC C  A. T FCC         S C     ’.T   fl       A   F A . W     —   —  ff        (  , V, DVD,   I). V           .T     , . W ,           -,    - F D,      .
1
  W       , -       q    ffi       . T          ff F A        -   : (1)    fi, (2) ,   ,          .I. P . S: W W  C AT S  T C    -   ,  A P A (APA)  .   ,   FCC    ff      F A   . T      FCC   ,        fi   “fl” (
FCC v. Fox 
)  fl  (
CBS v. FCC 
). TFCC    fi              .T S C             F A    . B              .T F A—    FCC     —   ;    Z           ff      . L              ff            -               .
2
T  ,        , “T          ff   ff ”  “ff  F A . U,   fl  .
3
A  R M  
Engage 
 O,            —   “- ”—       fi.
4
 I,    -  -                   . T   “”          -  ff        ff    .
5
T  : (1) S; (2) P  / ; (3) “P.” S       fl              ,    
FCC v. Fox 

CBS v. FCC.
II. S S “”       
sine quanon
       A.G ,               -,            .S        -     R A  1927  C- A  1934. S C   
NBC v. United States 
(1943)
6
 

Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v.FCC 
(1969)
7
 
     ,      -   . W               ,     . E    ,         . E       . F ,      , ,     ,           . I 1986 D.C. C 
elecommunication Research & ActionCenter v. FCC 
,      FCC’ “FD,” -J R B  , “A   … S     ,           . T 
 
144 
 
Engage: Volume 10, Issue 1
           .
8
 W          ,      , , ,      ff           ffi . I ,   fi             .
9
S ,      ,  ,   . A I  S P,  
echnologies of Freedom
,   1983: “T         q ,               ,      . S       q .”
10
I,       ,  ’  FCC   I 1991, JE,   
Freedom, echnology and the First Amendment 
,  “[I]               . I,          .”
11
F ,    V     A  
Red Lion
    1969,             .
12
D     “”   ,       F A .
13
 M,  ,           ,             ’ .
14
W       (   V),  , DVD, ,   I   , “                  ,” 
Chicago ribune 
 S C.
15
I,          -,   .T, —   —   fi  ff     -.III. P O / LT     FCC’       -     “   A ” “   A .” T—     —        (    - ) C   FCC  ,       “ .”
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S        FCC   .B         .G            ’ ,             . S,“A       ,          q     ,”  B F,      FCC.
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“I        q            F A ,”  .
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N           . G , ,    ,                .
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O             . MS,  ,   , “ F A             ”      -          .
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S      F P C                 “   .” S    ff  F A          . B          A .M,           q. B              fi  . T    V        ;      .B              . T     .T “P’ A”     -    FCC    2005   J W. B,  ff    FCC’ M B,        q.
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B’  :
M ,             . N         T P’ W            q             ff .…
F,         ,       ’ ,, ,  q, ,  -        .T        .
22
F  ,  “’ ”       ff       .IV. P A             1970: “.” U,      ,    S C        . I
FCC v.Pacifica Foundation
(1978),   “  ”,  S C  :
 
February 2009 
 
145 
O    ,     F A . A        
uniquely pervasive  presence 
         . B                  ff.B, , 
uniquely accessible to children
.
23
T        . A
Pacifica
,       “” “ ”    , q     10:00 ..     . I
 Action for Children’s elevision v. FCC III 
(1995),  U.S. C  A   D.C. C   FCC           6:00 ..  10:00 ..
24
 B      .
 A. “Intruder” or Invited Guest? 
T        “-”            . I      q    “”   , 
Pacifica
C        . A   —  —      . P  .O       ,             . A ,      - —  , , q,   -—         . B        SC  
Pacifica
     
.
T “--”     -   ff           . O--    “,”         . T      . C ,  , q       $40     .
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A    I q        I  .I,     (,  ,, .)         A—     —        F A . I      , -  ,   ’     ,     “”    ,  - ,  I ,   fi    ff     .
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A  FCCC M P    1998 , “T V              , DBS,     . M A    V                 .”
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B. Are Parents Powerless? 
T         ,  ,           -            .
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I       “”                 - .
 
 W J S  
Pacifica
    “”   ,       “B        ,             -.”
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W    fl       ,        ,   . I 1978,       ff             ff   . -,  ,  ( )    “   ”  ,     “ -”         , ,    . A      V-C,    fi   .
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F  86   A       ,  -  q     -.
31
M ,   ,   DVD,    (DVR)    (VOD) ,                  .
32
T        
in advance 
    . P               .O ,      --
radio
-,   ffi       fi. B                -. T                 ,         “.
33
 T      -      . A ,         ff  ’    ,   —   —    -   . I           “ ”- ,   - “ .”
C. What Happens When Everything is Pervasive? 
 W  
Pacifica’s 
“”           q    ,         . A NBC    fi-   S C U.S. C  A  2006:

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