U.S. Supreme Court to rule on indecency broadcasts

Posted by Starr Keshet

Oh, hell yeah! Today is a great day for the holy trinity of comedy: Howard Stern, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.

Although Bruce and Carlin have long departed for that great gig in the sky, both comedians would undoubtedly appreciate the US Supreme Court's decision to decide if the FCC's policy of banning "fleeting expletives" on broadcast TV violates freedom of free speech.


Of course, Bruce and Carlin might have expressed disappointment that last year's ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to ditch the FCC's oft-criticized policy wasn't immediately implemented, but a potentially sympathetic hearing by the highest U.S. court is certainly nothing to scoff at.

Unsurprisingly, a number of TV networks have urged the Supreme Court to reject the Obama administration's petition to hear the case, insisting the lower court's decision should be adhered to.

By appealing the case, the White House has "necessarily put at issue the underlying constitutionality of regulating broadcast speech and whether the court's decisions in Pacifica and Red Lion should be overruled," Fox, NBC and CBS claimed in a joint petition. 



But in a separate statement, Fox emphasized it was ultimately looking forward to the U.S. Supreme Court review. 


"We are hopeful the Court will ultimately agree the FCC's indecency enforcement practices trample on the First Amendment rights of broadcasters.”

The FCC currently regulates indecent speech based on the Pacifica decision, which involved George Carlin’s infamous "Filthy Words" routine aired on a Pacifica radio station 1973.

In the earlier ruling, the court determined the FCC retains the authority to regulate broadcast speech when the audience includes an "appreciable number" of children. Nevertheless, broadcasters are permitted to air indecent speech, but only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The current case involving the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals was sparked by a number of so-called "expletives" broadcast during two consecutive years of the The Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003.

While the networks won the case - twice - at the 2nd Circuit of Appeals, the Obama administration still insisted on appealing the decision to the Supreme Court.

[Via Politico]