The Supreme Court today upheld a U.S. government crackdown on profanity on television, a policy that subjects broadcasters to fines for airing a single expletive blurted out on a live show.
But the court refused to pass judgment on whether the Federal Communications Commission's "fleeting expletives" policy is in line with First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The justices say a federal appeals court should weigh the constitutionality of the policy.
In its first ruling on broadcast indecency standards in more than 30 years, the high court handed a victory to the FCC. The agency's policy prohibits the one-time use of profanity on live television when children are likely to be watching.
The case stemmed from an FCC ruling in 2006 that found that the Fox television network violated decency rules when singer Cher blurted out an expletive during the 2002 Billboard Music Awards broadcast and actress Nicole Richie used two expletives during the 2003 awards.
No fines were imposed, but Fox challenged the decision and a U.S. appeals court in New York struck down the new policy as as "arbitrary and capricious" and sent the case back to the FCC for a more reasoned explanation of its policy.
The FCC, under the administration of former President George W. Bush, had pursued a crackdown of indecent content on broadcast TV and radio after pop star Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 broadcast of the Super Bowl halftime show.
Before 2004, the FCC did not ordinarily enforce prohibitions against indecency unless there were repeated occurrences.
By a 5-4 vote and splitting along conservative-liberal lines, the justices overturned the ruling by the appeals court and said the FCC's new policy and its findings in the two cases were neither arbitrary nor capricious.
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