The fact that it is election day has all but hidden the fact that today the US Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case of FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Docket No. 07-582. Fox is unambiguously on the side of free speech, and is fighting the tendency of the FCC in recent years to punish broadcasters for “isolated and fleeting utterances” that it deems indecent. The vagueness of the FCC’s indecency standard is very much at issue.
An isolted utterance would, for example, occur if — in a post-game locker room interview — a player remarked on live television that he didn’t give a f____ing s_____t what the coach thought of his five missed pass receptions.
If you care about censorship, read the accounts of today’s arguments and watch for a final decision. And if you are really interested, check out the slew of amicus briefs filed by all manner of organizations opposing censorship. And some favoring it.
What makes the case interesting is that the indecency at issue is spontaneous, and not planned in advance or written in a script. Some of us support the right of a broadcasters to do even that, but the FCC in this case is essentially arguing for — and FOX is opposing — the idea that stations should be held responsible for accidents!
Ridiculous. While these cases almost always involve defending someone’s right to say something stupid and even offensive, this is precisely how we establish and protect the principle of free expression.