Supreme Court Rules Against FCC Profanity, Nudity Policy
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the FCC's policy regulating curse words and nudity on broadcast television.
In an 8-0 decision, the high court threw out fines and sanctions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission. The case involved some uncensored curse words and brief nudity on various networks, including Fox.
"Because the FCC failed to give FOX or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent, the Commissions' standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague," the Supreme Court said in its opinion.
The court said the FCC is "free to modify its current indecency policy" in light of the ruling.
The justices, though, declined to issue a broad ruling on the constitutionality of the FCC indecency policy. Instead, the court concluded only that broadcasters could not have known in advance that obscenities uttered during awards show programs and a brief display of nudity on an episode of ABC's NYPD Blue could give rise to sanctions. ABC and 45 affiliates were hit with proposed fines totaling nearly $1.24 million.
It was the second time the court has confronted, but not ruled conclusively on, the FCC's policy on isolated expletives. Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court that "it is unnecessary for the court to address the constitutionality of the current policy."
The case arose from a change in the FCC's long-standing policy on curse words. For many years, the agency did not take action against broadcasters for one-time uses of curse words. But, following several awards shows with cursing celebrities in 2002 and 2003, the FCC toughened its policy after it concluded that a one-free-expletive rule did not make sense in the context of keeping the air waves free of indecency when children are likely to be watching television.
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