In case you didn’t hear, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein made some provocative remarks last week at PFF’s annual Aspen Summit, especially on the subject of broadcast indecency enforcement. In his speech, Adelstein had some very interesting things to say about the debates over a la carte regulation and multi-cast must carry mandates (both of which he vehemently opposes) and media ownership regulation (which he strongly supports). But when he got the sensitive subject of indecency regulation, none of us there could have guessed what was coming.
Commissioner Adelstein took FCC Chairman Martin and the rest of the agency to task for their over-zealous enforcement of indecency regulations: “I don’t believe the Commission has provided broadcasters a coherent and principled framework that is rooted in commonsense and sound constitutional grounds,” argued Adelstein. “While we often spend most of our time taking about economic freedom, freedom from governmental intrusion into speech is just as important.” Adelstein then detailed some of the problems with the agency’s recent indecency rulings and concluded that “the Commission’s last batch of decisions dangerously expands the scope of indecency and profanity law.”
Importantly, however, Adelstein noted that he is still a believer in some underlying authority for the agency in terms of broadcast speech regulation. He didn’t bother justifying that outside of using the usual tagline about “protecting the children.” And he didn’t bother explaining why these unique speech constraints should only be imposed on broadcasters while all the kids are bolting to new media outlets.
Regardless, Adelstein pointed out that the FCC’s recent actions threaten to undermine the basic foundations of the FCC’s regulatory regime:
“the Commission’s careless approach endanger[s] the very authority we so delicately retained to enforce broadcast decency rules. . . if the Commission’s zeal leads it to overstep its statutory authority, the Commission could find its authority circumscribed by the courts. We may forever lose the ability to prevent the airing of indecent material, barring an unlikely constitutional amendment setting limits on the First Amendment.”
Of course, some of us are hoping (and predicting) that that’s exactly what will happen!