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Is FCC 'running wild' with its big fines for 'fleeting expletives'?

A court has ruled that the FCC has to reconsider its fines for unplanned expletives blurted out on live broadcasts. The ruling comes as media experts debate whether the FCC should have a role in the Internet world.

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Tuesday's ruling by the New York-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which sends the FCC back to the drawing board for its policy on “fleeting expletives” on broadcast television, has unexpectedly raised the hopes of First Amendment scholars and legal experts who would like to see less government regulation of the media.

At the same time, the surprise decision to ask the FCC to refine its guidelines for unacceptable over-the-air moments has rallied watchdog groups concerned about the coarsening of civic life.

“The FCC has been running wild with these huge fines,” argues Fordham University’s Paul Levinson, who says “any fines of any broadcaster communication is an obvious blatant violation of the First Amendment.” Pointing to recent discussions in Congress to expand FCC authority to both cable and the Internet, the author of “New New Media” says that this breather in the lockstep march toward increased regulatory intrusion provides an opening for a broader debate.

“What champions of the First Amendment who have been in despair over decades now hope is that this is the beginning of the turning of the tide towards more respect for the First Amendment,” he says adding, “a week ago, before this ruling, I would have called that a pipe dream, but now it may not be.”

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