Supreme Court rules against FCC indecency fines


The Supreme Court on June 21 unanimously threw out fines and other penalties against broadcast companies that violated the Federal Communications Commission policy regulating curse words and nudity on television airwaves.

But the Justices declined to issue a broad ruling on the constitutionality of the FCC’s indecency policy. Instead, the court concluded only that broadcasters could not have known in advance that obscenities uttered during awards show programs by Cher and Nicole Richie and a brief display of nudity on an episode of ABC’s “NYPD Blue” could give rise to penalties.

“The Commission failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the unanimous court.

The justices said the FCC is free to revise its indecency policy, which is intended to keep the airwaves free of objectionable material during the hours when children are likely to be watching.

The agency’s chairman, Julius Genachowski, said the ruling “appears to be narrowly limited to procedural issues related to actions taken a number of years ago. Consistent with vital First Amendment principles, the FCC will carry out Congress’s directive to protect young TV viewers.”

In other High Court news, a decision on challenges to the Affordable Care Act is due before the summer break – probably on June 25.

Also, the attorneys for the GOP leadership in the U.S. House this week have confirmed their plans to ask the High Court to hear a case on the Defense of Marriage Act. A federal judge and appeals court panel in Boston have ruled elements of DOMA unconstitutional. House Republicans, defending the law in court because the Justice Department will not, wants a final ruling from the Supreme Court.

The case, if taken up by the Court, would not be heard before next fall.

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