Networks Argue for Clarity in TV Indecency Rules

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WASHINGTON - Should the federal government be allowed to regulate what broadcasters put on the air during times when children are often watching television?

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday from attorneys with the big four broadcast networks. ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox said their clients deserve full First Amendment rights.

"The time has come to treat broadcast TV on an equal footing with all the rest of the media. The same First Amendment rights ought to apply," Carter Phillips, an attorney representing the Fox television networks, argued before the justices.

However, Patrick Trueman, the chief executive officer of Morality In Media, views the matter differently.

"The networks have no right to broadcast filth into our home," he told CBN News.

Opponents argue that those granted access to the public airwaves must keep them safe for all the public.

"The government merely says with a federal statute, since we're giving you the right to go into people's homes, the sanctity of their home, you must behave. And the networks want to say, 'No, we're not going to behave. We have a constitutional right to be indecent and profane in the homes of every American,'" Trueman said.

Network lawyers say they're only protesting vague standards that sometimes has a network subjected to fines or sanctions, and sometimes don't.

Colby May, director of the American Center for Law and Justice, is no friend of the networks, but said he understands when they complain of inconsistent standards.

"We don't know when we're crossing the line, when we're not crossing the line," May said.

"And in this instance you sanction it when it's on 'NYPD Blue,' but you don't sanction nudity or language when it's on 'Saving Private Ryan' or when it's on 'Schindler's List' and the like," he said.

But some, even in the Christian realm, warn that messing around with somebody else's First Amendment rights can often end up biting you and your cause.

"We've got to be careful in not establishing a standard that says, 'Any speech I don't want to hear in my home, you, government, have an obligation to make sure it doesn't get to me,'" May explained.

"Because by that rule, by that yardstick, Christian television is going to be on a short list for people who want to say, 'Oh, I don't want that in my home,'" he said.

Another argument from network lawyers -- cable, satellite, and wireless are also granted rights or sparse spectrum, but don't have to comply with decency standards.

With 85 percent of American homes already having cable or satellite television, the court might decide that this is already a case of the horse is out of the barn.

But with so many American families still walling themselves off on purpose from uncensored media, preserving a safe place for them might still be a cause the justices consider worth preserving.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at