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'Project' lets freedom sing

This is an excellent time for ''The First Amendment Project," four short films that, seizing various entry points, examine with flair what freedom of expression really means -- and the threats it's facing.

In an unusual partnership, this series has been coproduced by the Sundance Channel and Court TV -- both of which will air each half-hour film. Premiering tonight at 9 on Sundance and at 10 on Court TV:

''Fox v. Franken" revels in Fox News Channel's quixotic crusade to bar publication of Al Franken's book ''Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." Directed by Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob (''The War Room"), this film investigates, in aptly cheeky style, the First Amendment implications of cribbing a trademarked phrase (Fox's ''Fair and Balanced" slogan) for the purpose of parody.

Despite Fox host Bill O'Reilly's ire that his photo was on the book cover (and Fox's legal complaint that Franken was ''deranged") the First Amendment stood firm against the Fox lawsuit, while -- fueled by the publicity -- Franken's book shot to the top of the bestseller list.

Right after that film, ''Poetic License" recalls the clash between New Jersey's poet laureate Amiri Baraka and his government patron, which in 2003 stripped him of his funding and title after a poem about the events of 9/11 triggered charges of anti-Semitism.

Directed by actor-filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, this film interlaces Baraka's reading of his prickly poem with numerous viewpoints on the sometimes conditional nature of government arts money, and whether this amounts to government censorship.

Airing on Dec. 15, at 9 p.m. on Sundance and 10 p.m. on Court TV:

''Some Assembly Required" revisits the Republican National Convention in Manhattan, where the need for security collided with the First Amendment rights of protesters to assemble peaceably -- and where the First Amendment took some serious hits.

''Every tyrant knows that if you can eliminate spaces where people assemble, you can protect yourself really well," says one speaker in noting how freedom of assembly is an innate part of the First Amendment.

The film, by John Walter (''How to Draw a Bunny"), follows a couple of rather ordinary Americans as they, with some half-million others, exercise their right to dissent. The resistance they encounter is captured in footage you probably didn't see on TV news.

Then in ''No Joking," actor-filmmaker Bob Balaban (''Strangers With Candy") takes a fractured look at what is actually protected as free speech -- and what isn't (hint: CBS firing the outspokenly satiric Smothers Brothers in 1970 wasn't, in constitutional terms, censorship).

This film, which features Eric Bogosian and Richard Dreyfuss, unearths fascinating footage of First Amendment poster boy Lenny Bruce, as well as other standards-flouting comedians such as Richard Pryor and George Carlin, who marvels at the variable power of language: ''No one has ever gone to jail for screaming 'pneumonia' or `topography.' But there are some words you can go to jail for!"

Globe on NECN

Here's what's happening on ''Around the Globe" today on NECN:

9:30 a.m.: ''Talk of New England" -- Living/Arts columnist Alex Beam joins the discussion about hybrid cars.

12:30 p.m.: ''Globe at Home" -- Living/Arts writer Bella English and Tindaro LoSurdo, executive chef for Boston's Smith & Wollensky, offer insight on getting the best cuts of steak and how to serve them.

4 p.m.: ''Around the Globe"

6:30 p.m.: ''New England Business Day"

8 p.m.: ''NewsNight"

Schedule is subject to change.

Talk of the dial

Noon WUMB-FM (91.9) -- ''Live At Noon." Guest: Keri McTighe; Shelley Marshall; Devin Latimer; Daniel Roy; musicians in the band Nathan, live interview and performance.

Other radio highlights

8 a.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- ''Classics in the Morning." Tchaikovsky's Capriccio italien; Haydn's Piano Trio No. 35.

9 a.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25; Haydn's ''Clock" Symphony.

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