Fox and ABC say tougher FCC regulations of broadcasters regarding
expletives and partial nudity are discriminatory in an age when
cable and Internet programs are not similarly regulated.
The US Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument on Tuesday in a
case that examines whether tougher indecency standards enforced
against broadcast television companies in recent years violate free
speech protections of the First Amendment.
The Obama administration is supporting the stricter standards and
urging the justices to reverse a lower court ruling that declared
the Federal Communications Commission regulations unconstitutional.
The tougher regulations subjected broadcast companies to
substantial fines for the use of an isolated expletive or partial
nudity during prime time programming.
For decades, the FCC had embraced a more lax enforcement posture,
allowing the occasional four-letter "blooper" without subjecting
broadcast companies to enforcement actions.
That changed in 2004, when the FCC shifted course and beefed up
its policy on foul language and nudity on broadcast television.
Broadcasters are objecting to the policy change, claiming it is
so ill-defined that it denies companies fair notice of what is
banned. They also argue that such government censorship violates the
free speech protections of the First Amendment.
Fox Television Stations and ABC are asking the Supreme Court to
affirm the lower court's decision and declare that the FCC's
regulatory regime is unconstitutional.
At issue is the extent to which broadcast television viewers will
encounter coarse language and brief nudity on their television
screens during prime time programming.
The FCC has sought to crack down on what it viewed as an
increasingly permissive broadcast environment that failed to
adequately self-police the use of four-letter words and risque
The stations have fought back, arguing that the traditional
broadcast companies should no longer be subject to special indecency
regulations. They say the growth and popularity of other media -
such as cable television and the Internet - have diminished the need
for government controls on broadcast television content.
Government regulations were based on the fact that radio and
television broadcasts were ubiquitous and readily accessible to
children. In an effort to shield children from questionable content,
the FCC established rules that certain offensive language and sexual
content would not be broadcast from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Broadcasters were free to schedule more adult-oriented
programming after 10 p.m.
The government based its ability to regulate broadcast content on
the fact that it was allowing private companies access to a limited
band of government-controlled frequencies. …