Supreme Court Takes Up Indecency

While most of Washington, D.C., focused on the elections, the Supreme Court on Tuesday (Nov. 4) started discussing a closely followed case centering on indecency and swearing on TV.

The court’s review of the case, FCC vs. Fox, will decide whether the agency can subject broadcasters to fines when they air so-called “fleeting expletives” on live TV broadcasts or even vulgar language on entertainment programming.

For decades, the FCC had allowed isolated instances of vulgar language to go unpunished until the agency launched a crackdown in 2004 after an incident involving U2 frontman Bono. It introduced a maximum fine of $325,000, which the networks argue restricts free speech.

The case under review came out of swear words used by Cher and Nicole Richie during awards shows broadcast on News Corp.’s Fox network, which the FCC decided to fine Fox for under the so-called “Bono rule.”

Another court overturned the FCC’s policy, raising First Amendment concerns and calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” This left the Supreme Court to hear an FCC plea to reinstate the rule.

While observers expected controversial moments Tuesday, the use of euphemisms helped the court avoid that. Justices and others in Tuesday’s hearing used such phrases as “the f-word” and “s-word,” reports said.

Those also said that some Supreme Court justices — like Ruth Bader Ginsburg — seemed sympathetic to the networks, while others — like Antonin Scalia — appeared supportive of the FCC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.