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Supreme Court to decide fate of FCC's indecency enforcement rules

June 27, 2011 | 10:19 am

The battle over how the Federal Communications Commission enforces its indecency rules has reached the Supreme Court.

On Monday, the high court said it would hear arguments over whether the FCC's enforcement of its rules against foul language and overtly sexual content violate the Constitution. Last year, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the FCC's rules were "unconstitutionally vague" and had a "chilling effect."

The 2nd Circuit's ruling was in response to a fight between the FCC and News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting over so-called fleeting expletives. In 2004, the FCC ruled television stations could be fined for indecency violations in cases when a vulgarity was broadcast during a live program. That happened on Fox in 2002 and 2003 when Cher and Nicole Richie cursed during award shows and were not bleeped.

The FCC never actually fined Fox, but the network took issue with the regulatory agency setting the stage for future fines and challenged the fleeting-expletive rules.

Earlier this year, the same court also tossed a fine the FCC had levied on ABC and some of its affiliates for an episode of the police drama "NYPD Blue" that included a brief nude shot of actress Charlotte Ross' backside.

The court said its previous ruling on Fox applied to this case as well even though the circumstances were different.

"Although this case involved scripted nudity," the ruling said, "the case turns on an application of the same content-based indecency test that Fox found 'impermissibly vague.' "

The Supreme Court's decision to hear the government's appeal of the 2nd Circuit Court's rulings was cheered by both sides.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters, the television industry's chief Washington lobbying group, said it "supports a constitutional review of the FCC's enforcement of program content rules."

The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group that fights for cleaner airwaves and more family-friendly programming, praised the Supreme Court's decisoin to hear the case.

"The high court will have the opportunity to reverse misguided 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that would open the floodgates for graphic nudity and some of the harshest profanity in the English language,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

-- Joe Flint

RELATED:

Court of Appeals swears off FCC ruling

Court tosses 'NYPD Blue' indecency case

Supreme Court strikes down California video game law

 

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