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Federal appeals court sets limit on indecent broadcasts

A federal appeals court has narrowed the hours during which broadcasters can send out sexually explicit movies, talk shows and other "indecent" material.

But viewers won't notice any difference, the TV networks said, because the shows on now aren't indecent.

The decision Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia pushes the permissible starting time for programing deemed indecent back two hours _ to 10 p.m. from 8 p.m. The period ends at 6 a.m. each day.

But TV stations and the major broadcast networks don't expect to make any changes in their program lineups, representatives said.

A main reason: Not one of the shows _ from daytime soaps and talk shows to Married with Children and ER _ that currently air on broadcast television has been ruled indecent by the Federal Communications Commission.

All of the FCC's recent actions against indecent broadcasts have involved radio in general and Howard Stern in particular. There hasn't been an action against television in years.

Viewers or listeners who believe a broadcast is indecent can file a complaint to the FCC, which determines that based on its longstanding definition.

That legal definition, not changed by the court's ruling, says indecent material is that which describes in terms patently offensive, as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs.

Because the FCC's definition is broad, broadcasters say it has never been crystal clear to them what shows could be deemed indecent.

Friday's ruling affects the regulations of the FCC and thus TV and radio broadcasting nationwide.

Unlike obscenity, indecent language or material is protected by the First Amendment. But the ruling says the government may limit it because of a "compelling interest in protecting children under the age of 18." The limit does not apply to cable television.

Opponents said the court's indecency ban will keep all kinds of programs from being made and aired on broadcast stations _ from talk shows on sex education to documentaries on AIDS.