Congress Considers Indecent Assault on Free Speech

Congress Considers Indecent Assault on Free Speech

Seeking Greater Censorship Powers Over TV and Radio
March 16, 2004

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Richard Morrison, 202.331.2273


<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Washington, D.C., March 17, 2004—Consumers are facing the threat of greater regulation of television and radio broadcasting from Congress and the Federal Communications Commission over allegedly indecent content.  Many of the “solutions” to media indecency being proposed would violate the free expression guarantees of the First Amendment and make government—not consumers—the ultimate arbiter of programming content.


“The prospect of the federal government getting deeper into the job of telling Americans what they are allowed to watch and listen to is deeply troubling,” said Braden Cox, Technology Counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  “Particularly alarming are proposals to expand FCC censorship powers beyond traditional broadcast networks and into the arena of cable and satellite content.  It’s the desire of regulators to ignore the First Amendment, not controversial programming, which Americans should regard as truly offensive.”


Congress should weigh costs and benefits before it passes any law.  In this case, out of the regulation of speech, arguably the most precious of our constitutional rights, comes what measurable benefit? Will crime go down?  Will children retain their innocence a little bit longer?  To be sure, there are plenty of less intrusive mechanisms that exist in society today short of government censorship.  And parents of children have a powerful weapon of their own—it’s called the “off button.”


“The terrible potential for abuse of such powers should be a wake up call for anyone concerned about free speech,” said Cox.  “Moreover, as we have seen in the reaction to recent indecency scandals, customers are perfectly able to be their own regulators by registering their displeasure with programmers and advertisers.  Truly offensive content—as opposed to occasional crudeness or political incorrectness—will be met with vanishing audiences and no advertisers.”