Supreme Court Agrees to Hear ‘Fleeting Expletive’ Case

Mar 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on indecency issues stemming from fleeting expletives that aired during awards broadcasts on Fox, the court announced today.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Federal Communications Commission’s appeal of the ruling last June by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in a case involving obscenities uttered by Nicole Richie and Cher during live broadcasts of the 2002 and ’03 Billboard Music Awards.
The major broadcast networks and their affiliates are parties to the case, in which the appeals court’s ruling called the FCC’s policy “arbitrary and capricious.”
The Supreme Court’s decision could set a standard for rulings on fleeting indecency.
In a statement Fox said, “Fox is pleased that the Supreme Court has decided to hear this case involving fleeting expletives in live TV shows, as this will give us an opportunity to demonstrate once again the arbitrary nature of the FCC’s decision in this and similar cases. It will also give us the opportunity to argue that the FCC’s expanded enforcement of the indecency law is unconstitutional in today’s diverse media marketplace where parents have access to a variety of tools to monitor their children’s television viewing.”
In a statement, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said, “I am pleased the Supreme Court will review the Second Circuit’s decision in Fox vs. FCC. The commission, Congress and most importantly parents understand that protecting our children is our greatest responsibility. I continue to believe we have an obligation then to enforce laws restricting indecent language on television and radio when children are in the audience.”
1:35 p.m.: Updated with Kevin Martin statement


  1. It’s about time some attention is being paid to the total degradation of broadcast media. In my long years in the business, even damn or hell was verboten; and we managed to get along fine, and even set a good example for the listeners. Even some of the ‘dirtiest’ comedians seem to have discovered that they can put on a clean act and be appreciated for their humnor instead of mere shock value.
    Those left-wing “libertines” who claim “free speech!” should be set back on their dirty heels.
    I say “Bully for the FCC and the courts, for stepping in to fix this mess.”

  2. If I was a SCOTUS member, my first question to the litigant would be, “And tell me again why is it that you cannot air live shows on a 7-second delay?”

  3. I still can’t believe SCOTUS has to rule on what should be an FCC procedural issue, period, as they’re the licensing body for the public airwaves.
    There is literally no excuse whatsoever for any “fleeting expletive” to appear in broadcasts as networks have the technology in place to implement a delay to prevent such things.
    It’s even more of a lame excuse in the face of the fact that for many of these shows, they already implement a delay when broadcasting certain musical acts, so there’s no reason the entire broadcast could not be so delayed.
    I think everyone reading this knows the networks in question are hoping a celebrity lets loose with a “fleeting expletive” because of the PR value and because it makes the broadcast appear “edgy” rather than the snoozefests most award shows have become.
    I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that celebrities have let loose with profanities on both Today and Good Morning America in recent months.
    I’d also allow the FCC to impose a steeper penalty, adjusted for how far off the rating of the program the “inadvertent” expression occurred on. If the program was TV-MA, only a token fine should be imposed, but if the program was TV-G, the book should be thrown at the broadcaster. What’s the point of the rating system if “fleeting” expletives may be broadcast?

  4. Adam –
    It isn’t hearing the word so much as them repeating the word. Not that I think they should be able to hear it either.
    Children don’t understand the word and don’t know the appropriate time to use it. They will use it someday at a most inappropriate time. Also, parents then have the problem of explaining what the word means when they ask that question.
    My daughter is in 1st grade and some kids in her class use four letter words including calling the teacher names. There is nothing endearing about it.
    Sorry, I agree with Red and Doug.
    Of course, as some parents have done, there is the option of not watching TV and just watching DVDs of safe programs of the 60’s and 70’s. I’m all for that if networks continue the “anything goes” approach to TV.

  5. Interesting to see this on “the George Carlin, 7 words”. Things have gone relaxed ovedr the years. I really don’t see the problem with the words themselves. What I do see the problem with is how they are used. If, like radio, the words are used to titilate, tear down, etc… Yes, I have a problem with it. If it’s accidental, like my local mayor on WJR (2/21/08) did, (he said ” F*^% Ruckuss “), i Don’t mind it. However, there are existing hours it’s accceptible.
    We DO NOT want to make the rules so strong that we hear about the “TEN” network in Austrailia, amoungst all the networks. “TEN” was fined for showing a “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” promo before a certain time. The issue, Buffy kicked someone, even if it was the bad guy. That was deemed as innapropriate for any child to see. This could also mean Bugs Bunny Could be finable. … Get the drift on this?
    Even though the FCC is losing money due to lower fees, etc., that’s no excuse to go after someone, to make the lost money up. That is like the Creditors coming back at you 25 years later… not fair to anyone.

  6. More and more of our rights are deteriorating in this country. Freedom of speech is laughable these days. I can say what I want so long as I don’t “offend” anyone. You either have freedom or you do not. You can’t have it both ways.
    I as a parent choose to not let my child watch programming that might contain language or situations that I think they should not be watching. I know what programming is and isn’t acceptable. I let them watch what is appropriate and don’t let them watch what is not.
    I’m so sick and tired of the government trying to be the parent for me! Let me be the parent!
    Hopefully the high court will look at it this way and make a good ruling. Anyone that thinks it will be a good thing if they rule for the FCC is very ignorant. I believe there was a man in history that decided what was and wasn’t ok for the public to hear. His name was Hitler.

  7. Lindsay Lohan Will Go to Rehab Today, She’ll be out by Friday. What is needed is several days of feeling “wonderful”, and she is going to feel she can do it right by herself. Already been through it… done that! (I’d like to get her doctor’s number? I have ADD).

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