SPLC, CBI to Supreme Court: End FCC’s Power to Fine College Radio for Cursing

The Supreme Court should strike down a governmental policy allowing college radio stations to be fined for “fleeting expletives,” the Student Press Law Center and College Broadcasters, Inc., argue in a new friend-of-the-court brief.

SPLC and CBI joined forces for the brief in defense of college radio’s role as an often-live “laboratory for experimentation,” where, gasp, sometimes stray curse words are spoken.

The organizations’ problem: For the past decade, the Federal Communication Commission has operated as a “wide-ranging, randomly enforced indecency regime” waging a “crackdown on swear-words in over-the-air broadcasting.”  The resulting fines can reach a half million dollars, threatening student stations’ very existence simply due to a single broadcast’s “blurted curse-words.”

A portion of the brief: “The Commission’s current approach chills college broadcasters into self-censoring their speech so as to leave a broad buffer before reaching the indistinct boundary where indecency may (or may not) lie. This is the hallmark of an unconstitutionally vague regulatory regime.”

SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte: “[T]he risk of a five-figure or six-figure fine that could put a station out of business really discourages students from airing the very type of broadcasts that their audiences most want and that offer the most diversity in programming.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the related case, FCC v. Fox TV, in January.

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