Supreme Court upholds TV profanity crackdown

Tue Apr 28, 2009 3:35pm EDT
 
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court 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.

In its first ruling on broadcast indecency standards in more than 30 years, the high court handed a victory on Tuesday to the Federal Communications Commission, which adopted the crackdown against the one-time use of profanity on live television when children are likely to be watching.

The case stemmed from an FCC decision in 2006 that found News Corp's 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. A U.S. appeals court in New York struck down the new policy 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 President George W. Bush, had embarked on a crackdown of indecent content on broadcast TV and radio after pop star Janet Jackson briefly exposed her bare breast during the 2004 broadcast of the Super Bowl halftime show.

Before 2004, the FCC did not usually enforce prohibitions against indecency unless there were repeated occurrences.

By a 5-4 vote and splitting along conservative-liberal lines, the justices upheld the FCC's new policy under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The high court did not rule on Fox's constitutional challenge to the policy on free-speech grounds. The Supreme Court sent that issue back to the appeals court.   Continued...

 
<p>Cher at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas, December 9, 2002. REUTERS/Ethan Miller</p>