Federal court suspends FCC enforcement of indecency ruling

A federal appeals court has ordered the FCC not to enforce an indecency ruling it made earlier this year on several TV programs.

Last March, the commission ruled that episodes of ABC's “NYPD Blue” and shows on Fox and CBS violated the agency's indecency rules, which prohibits the broadcast of sexual or excretory material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. No fines were imposed.

The networks, seeking a court showdown about the FCC's indecency crusade in recent months, appealed the ruling, arguing that the commission had exceeded its authority and set a precedent that would restrain free speech and limit creativity in program production.

The programs in question contained “fleeting” uses of profanity, which the broadcasters argued should not automatically be considered indecent.

In response to the petition by the networks and their affiliated stations, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit issued an indefinite stay of the ruling while the judges considered whether to overturn the FCC's action. A decision is expected next year.

“We are gratified that the court has taken the first step in recognizing the serious First Amendment issues raised by the FCC's new enforcement policies,” CBS said in a prepared statement.

The FCC, led by indecency advocate Kevin Martin, was displeased with the court's action. “Hollywood argues that they should be able to say the F-word on television whenever they want,” FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said in a written statement. “The commission continues to believe they are wrong, and there should be some limits on what can be shown on television.”