In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would like to have as little to do with the FCC’s broadcast indecency policy as possible. Rather than the momentous ruling on the constitutional future of broadcast indecency enforcement that advocates on all sides of the issue had hoped for, the mighty sound of the court punting on the constitutional issue reverberated throughout Washington. Unfortunately, by putting that decision off until another day, the Court leaves the waters of FCC indecency enforcement as murky (and chilling) as ever.
The Supreme Court today concluded only that broadcasters could not have known in advance that obscenities uttered during awards show programs and a brief display of nudity on an episode of ABC’s NYPD Blue could give rise to FCC sanctions. But the justices declined to issue a broad ruling on the constitutionality of the FCC’s indecency policy.
The Supreme Court today vacated the FCC’s rules on “fleeting expletives” and brief nudity, saying it had not given networks adequate notice of its policies and that they were overly vague. It ducked a decision on the broader issue of the constitutionality of the indecency rules.
The Supreme Court heard arguments back on Jan. 10 in FCC v. Fox Television Stations, a case testing the constitutionality of the commission’s ban on indecent words and images on TV, and court watchers are curious. What the &#@$ is taking so long?
The Supreme Court justices engaged in colorful give-and-take today with lawyers for the government and television networks over government regulation of the airwaves during hours when children are likely to be watching.