Supreme Court Rules Against FCC in TV Profanity Cases

alec baldwinThe Federal Communications Commission is doing all they can to regulate the use of profanity on broadcast television. However, according to the Washington Post, the agency hit a slight bump in the road on Thursday morning, after the Supreme Court ruled against the FCC’s fine requests on TV profanity, declaring that the policy is too vague and needed clearer rules before imposing such sanctions.

Of course, the Court did not touch upon the larger question of whether the indecency policy is in violation of constitutional free-speech rights (a topic which is sure to continue to be a complicated one.) The justices simply stated that the FCC is free to revise its policy and return to court at a later date. So look out, Alec Baldwin — you might not be able to drop trou so freely in the near future.

Since news broke of the Court’s decision, the Parents Television Council President Tim Winter has issued the following statement:

“Once again the Supreme Court has ruled against the networks in their years-long campaign to obliterate broadcast decency standards. Contrary to some erroneous media reports, the Court today did not strike down the FCC’s broadcast decency policy, but in fact only ruled against the timing and order of events related to the FCC’s enforcement.

The Court today specifically acknowledged the FCC’s ability to continue broadcast decency enforcement as part of its public interest obligation. Pacifica is still good law. The FCC must now rule on the merits of more than 1.5 million backlogged indecency complaints. The ‘notice’ requirement, which allowed Fox and ABC to slip off the hook in these two cases at issue today, has already been satisfied for all the pending complaints.

Broadcast decency rules have existed to protect children since the dawn of the broadcast medium. It is for their sake that there will still be decency rules and the TV networks will be required to abide by them.”

FCC’s Chairman Genachowski has also given his own statement on the matter, saying, “We are reviewing today’s decision, which appears to be narrowly limited to procedural issues related to actions taken a number of years ago. Consistent with vital First Amendment principles, the FCC will carry out Congress’s directive to protect young TV viewers.”

For their part, ABC seems more than happy with the court’s decision, especially given the fact that the series NYPD Blue was one of the shows being fined. The network released the following statement: “We’re pleased with the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the episode of NYPD Blue, and we are reviewing the entire ruling carefully.”

Additionally, a Fox spokesperson has released a statement in regards to the ruling on behalf of the network, stating:

“We are pleased with the decision of the Supreme Court today finding that the FCC failed to comply with the requirement of the Fifth Amendment due process clause by not providing Fox with adequate notice that it could be punished for broadcasting fleeting expletives. The Court recognized that the case has significant First Amendment implications that require notice to be clearer, but declined to decide the broader First Amendment issues concerning the FCC’s authority to regulate the content of speech. Those issues remain for future litigation depending on what regulatory approach the FCC takes to these broadcasts in the future. We have always believed that the government must tread carefully with regard to matters implicating speech, and we hope in the future broadcasters will have the ability to rely on a governmental review process that takes careful account of the important Constitutional principles at stake.”

FCC TV Profanity


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