Indecent exposure: Court’s ruling against the FCC is a big victory for broadcasters.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that a federal court has found the Federal Communication Commission’s indecency policy to be “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.”
Earlier in its history, the FCC extracted most of its fines for offensive words that were scripted. It was usually a little less harsh when profanities popped up accidentally in the course of live shows. Until Bono. At the Golden Globes in 2003, he let it slip that the award was “really, really fucking brilliant!” (It totally was.) NBC didn’t get fined, but it did get its knuckles rapped, and the FCC tightened down the thumb screws on other broadcasters who made similar blunders.
In 2006, notable broadcasters such as Fox and NBC challenged the FCC’s policy as a violation of First Amendment rights. Four years later, they got their decision.
Here’s the court’s rulings in its own words:
“We agree with the networks that the indecency policy is impermissibly vague,” the court panel wrote, citing instances in which the FCC found that it was okay to air the word “d–khead” in an episode of “NYPD Blue,” but not a barnyard epithet.
“There is little rhyme or reason to these decisions and broadcasters are left to guess whether an expletive will be deemed ‘integral’ to a program,” the court wrote.
The court’s decision doesn’t mean that profanity will rule the airwaves. As The Wall Street Journal explained… “The decision doesn’t mean broadcast TV and radio shows will now be littered with profanity, because advertisers and viewers would likely complain. But the ruling will likely end, for now, the commission’s campaign to cleanse the airwaves of even spontaneous vulgarisms with the threat of hefty fines.
George Carlin would be proud. (Of course, then he wouldn’t have an act.)