The Supreme Court on Thursday overruled the Federal Communications Commission in two cases of alleged indecency on TV networks, but did not address the FCC's traditional policy against such indecency or its constitutionality.
Ruling unanimously, justices said FCC officials did not give Fox or ABC fair notice before sanctioning them for broadcasts that included obscenities and brief nudity. Fox was reprimanded only, but ABC was fined $1.24 million.
"The Commission failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent," said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the unanimous court. "The commission's standards as applied to these broadcasts were vague, and the commission's orders must be set aside."
The case involved a 2002 broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards on FOX in which singer Cher and TV personality Nicole Richie swore onstage, and a 2003 broadcast of "NYPD Blue" on ABC in which a woman's naked buttocks were shown for several seconds in a shower -- presented in a "pandering, titillating and shocking" manner by the network, according to the FCC.
The court pointedly avoided addressing whether the FCC rules violated the networks' First Amendment free-speech rights, only whether the agency applied its rules in a clear manner. Justices decided it did not.
Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion that the FCC "is free to modify its current indecency policy in light of its determination of the public interest and applicable legal requirements."
by RTT Staff Writer
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