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Court Rejects F.C.C. Rule Banning 'Indecent' Material at All Hours

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Washington--A federal appeals court has struck down a Federal Communications Commission rule that would have banned "indecent" material from radio and television broadcasts at all hours.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 3 to 0 on May 17 that the fcc's attempt to impose the ban to protect children from exposure to such material was unconstitutionally vague.

In addition, the court said, there is a need for "safe-harbor periods during which indecent material may be broadcast."

The government defines indecent material as "language that describes in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards ... sexual or excretory activities or organs." Obscene speech, defined as material appealing to prurient interests, is banned from the airwaves at all times.

The fcc's current safe-harbor period during which it allows broad8cast of indecent material is from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. The commission has fined 14 radio broadcasters in the past two years for broadcasting what it deemed indecent material during the hours from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M.

Ban Adopted in 1988

The commission adopted the 24-hour ban in 1988 at the instruction of the Congress, but it has not been enforced pending a ruling from the appeals court.

In approving the total ban, theel10lcommission argued that, because children are in the broadcast audience at all times, they need special protection from indecent material.

A broad coalition of broadcasters, news organizations, and other groups, including the advocacy group Action for Children's Television, challenged the rule, arguing that it was a form of censorship.

"Getting rid of indecent programs is not going to provide choice and diversity for children," Peggy Charren, president of act, said.

The appeals-court panel said the fcc must re-examine the rule and address concerns about the appropriate definition of children and the lack of data about the number of children in the broadcast audience at different hours.

Conservatives, such as U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, and the American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss., have championed the 24-hour ban.

The fcc last week was still considering whether to appeal the decision to the full Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court, officials said.

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