The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments on a case dealing with indecent speech on television.
At issue in the case
* “fleeting expletives” on broadcast TV
* The government aiming to clamp down on indecent language on the public airwaves
* But broadcast networks say government inconsistently regulates indecent speech
* Case concerns dirty words from celebrities such as Bono, Cher, Nicole Richie
According to CNN’s recording of events in this case:
A federal appeals court in New York last year ruled in their favor, calling the FCC’s policy “arbitrary and capricious.”
The commission then appealed to the Supreme Court, seeking restoration of its power to penalize the networks airing “indecent” speech, even if it is broadcast only once, and even if it does not describe a specific sex act.
Such language is seen with greater, albeit varying, frequency on cable television, the Internet and satellite radio, which do not use public airwaves.
But the federal government is charged with responding to viewer complaints when “indecent” language reaches television and radio, which is subject to greater regulation.
The crux of the issue concerns a number of fleeting expletives by celebrities and indecency on television shows.
The commission specifically cited celebrities Cher and Richie’s potty-mouth language during the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards, which aired on Fox. Richie, in an apparently scripted moment said, “Have you ever tried to get cow s–t out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f—ing simple.”
The complaint against ABC involved “NYPD Blue,” a now-canceled scripted police drama, and the one against CBS involved “The Early Show,” a news and interview program.
The Appeals Court ruling stated that the FCC did not adequately explain amendments to and enforcement of its “vague” policy on broadcasts of profanity. Now, the US Supreme Court will weigh in on the “isolated” use of such words — politely referred to as “fleeting expletives” — and the power of government to clamp down on what it sees as pervasive indecent language on the public airwaves.