U.S. court rules against FCC in TV profanity, nudity cases

Thu Jun 21, 2012 1:32pm EDT
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against a government crackdown on broadcast profanity and nudity, saying the Federal Communications Commission had not given fair notice of its policy change in three high-profile incidents.

The unanimous high court ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, declared that the FCC's standards were vague as applied to the broadcasts at issue in the case. It did not decide the larger question of whether the indecency policy violated constitutional free-speech rights.

Under the policy which dated to 2001 and was amended in 2004, broadcasters can be fined for airing a single profanity blurted out on a live show or for brief nudity. Government lawyers said it covered the "F-word" and the "S-word" that denote "sexual or excretory activities," respectively.

The justices threw out a U.S. appeals court ruling that struck down the policy on speech grounds and the justices said several options are before the commission, including reviewing the current policy and modifying it.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency is reviewing the Supreme Court decision, which he said appeared narrowly limited to procedural issues over actions taken years ago.

"Consistent with vital First Amendment principles, the FCC will carry out Congress's directive to protect young TV viewers," Genachowski said in a statement.

Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell said the agency should quickly implement the Court's decision and move on to address a backlog of nearly 1.5 million pending indecency complaints, dating as far back as 2003 and involving some 9,700 TV broadcasts.

"We owe it to the American public and the broadcast licensees involved to carry out our statutory duties with all deliberate speed," he said.   Continued...