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Court reviews FCC policy on TV indecency

The government is being overly protective in trying to control children's exposure to indecent material on radio and TV, a federal appeals court judge complained Wednesday.

"You are the national nana," Judge Patricia Wald said of a Federal Communications Commission policy restricting the airing of indecent material.

"You are not facilitating parents," she told the FCC's counsel. "You are saying, "We are the people who decide.' "

Wald was one of 11 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reviewing the constitutionality of the new regulations that would forbid TV and radio stations from airing all indecent material except during the hours from midnight to 6 a.m.

FCC attorney Christopher Wright argued that the government has an interest in protecting children from indecent material, particularly children with "indifferent" parents who don't supervise what their children watch or listen to. The Clinton administration supports the FCC position.

The regulations, he said, accommodate competing interests: limiting children's exposure to indecent material and protecting the rights of adults to watch or listen to legally protected speech.

A policy is now in effect barring indecent broadcasts except between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

It was not clear when or how the judges would rule. While some of the liberal judges appeared critical of the regulation, the circuit's six conservative judges gave little indication how they would vote.

Opponents of the FCC rule _ including civil liberties and civil rights groups, broadcasters and authors _ argued that it is overly broad, unfairly deprives adults of certain programs and takes away parental choice.

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