CNN Likely To Carry Cussing Case


CNN will likely air the Wednesday, Dec. 20, oral argument on broadcast profanity that could help set the stage for a Supreme Court challenge of the FCC's power to regulate language and sexual content on TV.

That's according to a source who said the news desk has indicated it will most likely run it.

C-SPAN asked for and got the rights to televise the oral argument before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. Other news operations could either separately petition the court, or ask C-SPAN for access to its coverage, which the cable net generally agrees to share.

Fox lawyers will square off against the FCC over swearing by Nicole Ritchie and Cher in Billboard Music Awards broadcasts from 2002 and 2003. The FCC says the broadcasts were profane and indecent and that variations of the words "fuck" and "shit"--in the context of prime time awards shows on at times when kids can be expected to be in the audience--are off limits. I made a similar call on NBC's Golden Globes telecast that become the template for its crackdown on cussing.

Fox, NBC and others counter that the FCC's policy is arbitrary and capricious, unconstitutional and essentially indefensible.

C-SPAN plans to air a taped version of the arguments on a delayed basis--at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday--and in a Saturday-night show about courts, but has yet to decide whether to air the arguments live. The editorial side favors live coverage, says a source, but that is apparently balanced by some technological challenges with feeding live out of New York.

At press time, nobody has contacted C-SPAN about gaining access to the footage--which it would almost certainly make available--but a C-SPAN spokesman says that may be because the news nets and broadcast-news divisions have yet to plan out their daybooks for Wednesday.

A spokesman for ABC said that the network may have a reporter at the hearing or monitoring it on C-SPAN if it is carried live. But in any event, "Someone will be covering and paying attention," said top ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, and ABC will give it wider coverage if it is warranted.

As of now CBS has no plans to request access to the C-SPAN feed, but will cover the story as its news value warrants, says spokeswoman Sandy Genelius.

NBC says it does not yet know its plans.At press time, the other networks had not returned calls for comment on their plans.