The Washington Post

Supreme Court to review FCC role as TV’s curse-words and nudity police

The Supreme Court said Monday that it will rule on the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to police the nation’s airwaves for indecencies.

The justices said they will review a decision by the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit that put the FCC’s role as indecency watchdog in jeopardy.

That appeals court found that the FCC went beyond its duties when it fined ABC for a 2003 episode of “NYPD Blue” that showed a woman’s naked backside. It also fined Fox around the same time for curse words uttered by Cher and Nicole Richie during live awards shows.

The FCC has fought for its ability to enforce broadcast indecency rules, which can impose up to $325,000 in fines per violation. Broadcasters have opposed strengthened rules, saying they violate the First Amendment.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court will review the lower court rulings that blocked the FCC’s broadcast indecency policy,” the FCC said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the Court will affirm the Commission’s exercise of its statutory responsibility to protect children and families from indecent broadcast programming.”

The Supreme Court said it will begin hearing oral arguments in the case this fall.

The current rules aim to prevent indecent content — such as nudity and curse words — from appearing on TV during hours that children watch.

Andrew Schwartzman, policy director for the public interest group Media Access Project, said the decision to take up the case doesn’t necessarily indicate that the Supreme Court will side with the FCC.

“The court almost always hears appeals when a federal policy has been declared unconstitutional,” he said, noting that the Supreme Court’s review will focus narrowly on the question of the FCC’s constitutional authority, not on broader calls for the agency to rethink its regulatory policy on broadcasters.

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.



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