Supreme Court Justices Voice Support for Indecency Crackdown

Jan 10, 2012  •  Post A Comment

With Occupy Wall Street protesters outside reciting George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," the U.S. Supreme Court today heard arguments on both sides of the Federal Communications Commission’s tougher indecency enforcement policy announced in 2004, Reuters reports.

Several justices voiced support for the agency’s crackdown on nudity and profanity, an effort that gained momentum in the wake of incidents involving the Fox and ABC broadcast networks, Bloomberg reports.

The Bloomberg piece reports: “The justices today considered broadcaster contentions that the FCC’s policy is so vague it violates the Constitution. In an hour-long argument in Washington, Justice Samuel Alito was among those who expressed skepticism, asking what viewers would see on News Corp.’s Fox television if the FCC could no longer fine broadcasters for indecency.”

“Are they going to be seeing a lot of people parading around in the nude and a stream of expletives?” Alito asked, according to Bloomberg.

At the center of the case are specific instances including the use of expletives on Fox awards shows by Cher and Nicole Richie, and nudity on ABC’s “NYPD Blue.”

Bloomberg notes: “The FCC said in 2004 that it would begin punishing broadcasters for fleeting expletives — one-time utterances on live shows. A federal appeals court struck down the policy, saying the FCC had applied its rules inconsistently, and the Obama administration is seeking to revive the rules.”

Meanwhile, outside, “about half a dozen protestors … in front of the court yelled slogans like: ‘You can kill people half a world away, but you can’t say “fuck,”’" Reuters reported, noting that police did not attempt to disrupt the demonstration.

The Reuters report notes: “Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts argued that it was reasonable in this universe of cable and satellite television, where anything goes, that there should be some sort of safe haven. And since broadcasters are granted a license by the government, it’s not too much to ask them to adhere to certain rules, they said.”

The Associated Press reported that the court debate touched on whether policing broadcast TV makes sense in the cable era, “with one justice suggesting it’s a moot point at a time when broadcast TV seems headed the way of ‘vinyl records and 8-track tapes.’"

The court is expected to rule in the case, FCC v. Fox Television Stations, by July.

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