Powell Can't Pursue Cable Smut

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell won't be pursuing any cable-content restrictions without Congress first passing a law, he told National Association of Broadcasters convention attendees at a breakfast Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Powell said it was not within the FCC's statutory mandate. Speaking to broadcasters yesterday, House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton said he didn't expect legislation giving the FCC such authority for 3-4 years, though he thought such a bill would eventually pass.

Though Powell may not have the authority to regulate cable, he suggested he had the inclination. "I don't believe the First Amendment should change channels when it goes from ch. 7 to ch. 107. I don't believe it's that arbitrary, but I am not free to disavow that distinction."

Powell did not back off any of the recent indecency actions the commission has taken. Most recently, it ruled that profanity could be actionable regardless of context. "If I could show you the transcripts of some of these cases," he said, "very few of you would rise to defend them." Powell also noted that obscenity has no protection under the First Amendment.

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