Supremes Take Indecency Case Involving ‘Fleeting Expletives’

March 21, 2008
The Supreme Court said this week it will hear a broadcast indecency case—the first major broadcast indecency case for the high court in 30 years.

The case will be argued in the fall.

It concerns the FCC’s defense of its “omnibus” indecency order, which involved the commission’s decision to punish “fleeting” expletives. Experts say the outcome of the case could overturn the agency’s authority to regulate indecency content or further solidify that authority.

Fox Broadcasting Co., along with ABC, CBS and NBC, challenged the new policy after the commission said broadcasts of entertainment awards shows in 2002 and 2003 were indecent because of profanity uttered by Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie. A federal appeals court said the new policy was invalid and could violate the First Amendment.

No fines were issued in the incidents, but the FCC could impose fines for future violations of the policy.

The FCC appealed to the Supreme Court after a lower court nullified the commission’s enforcement of the rule, saying the agency had not adequately explained why it changed the policy on fleeting expletives.

Immediately after the news, and trade groups weighed in.

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin professed pleasure, saying, “The commission, Congress and, most importantly, parents understand that protecting our children is our greatest responsibility. I continue to believe we have an obligation then to enforce laws restricting indecent language on television and radio when children are in the audience.”

Democratic Commissioner Michael j Copps said, “While the FCC has a statutory duty to enforce the indecency laws, I continue to believe that all of us—government, industry and parents—have a role to play in protecting our children from inappropriate material. The court’s review will hopefully bring additional clarity to concerned citizens and broadcasters alike.”

NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said the trade association was happy: “NAB is pleased the Supreme Court has agreed to review this case, and that justices will provide badly needed clarity to both broadcasters and policymakers on this critically important First Amendment case.”

(Radio World)

Receive regular news and technology updates.
Sign up for our free newsletter here.