As I noted earlier, the Supreme Court just handed down a historical First Amendment decision in the case of Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations. Here are my initial general thoughts on the case that were just sent out in a PFF press release. Again, more commentary to follow later today as I continue to digest the decision.
While the Court decided this case on purely procedural grounds, its failure to address the constitutional issues at stake will leave the First Amendment freedoms of both media creators and consumers in this country uncertain until another case winds its way up to the court, which could take years. Practically speaking, as Justice Thomas noted, what’s the point of continuing to apply a censorship regime to one of the oldest mediums—broadcast TV and radio—when kids are flocking to unregulated mediums in large numbers? At this point, we’re doing little more than protecting adults from themselves and destroying over-the-air broadcasting in the process.
Until the Court clearly addresses the First Amendment protection of broadcasting in light of the Digital Revolution, we’ll just have to speculate as to how to reconcile the broadcast law of bygone era with the Court’s recent Internet jurisprudence—which has strongly supported the First Amendment. Although new media technologies and platforms are not covered currently by FCC content controls, the specter of regulation now haunts all media as platforms continue to converge and broadcast content gets repurposed on other platforms.
Finally, what makes the Court’s ruling even less sensible is that all parents have an extensive array of tools and strategies at their disposal to control media in their homes and in their lives of the children. That is especially the case for broadcast television programming, which is easier to control than ever before. The Court has held that user empowerment and private blocking solutions should shield the Internet from content regulation. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to broadcasting?