F*ck Yeah! Court Strikes Down FCC Rule Against Unscripted Expletives

The next time Bono drops the F-bomb while accepting an award or Janet Jackson’s nipple makes a cameo appearance at the Super Bowl, broadcasters won’t have to worry about facing mammoth fines from the FCC. A federal appeals court has said “f@ck this sh&t” to the controversial ban.

In its ruling released earlier today, the court called the FCC’s anti-obscenity laws “unconstitutionally vague.”

Wrote one judge in the court’s decision:

Under the current policy, broadcasters must choose between not airing or censoring controversial programs and risking massive fines or possibly even loss of their licenses, and it is not surprising which option they choose… Indeed, there is ample evidence in the record that the FCC’s indecency policy has chilled protected speech.

In 2006, in the wake of the horrifying, child-harming terror that was one second of nipple during the Super Bowl, Congress raised the maximum fine for each violation of the FCC obscenity rule to $325,000. Oh, and since each station that airs the offending material can be hit with the fine, the total tab for the networks could reach several millions of dollars per violation.

Fox, which rarely needs to drop the F-bomb to offend, was pleased as punch about the ruling:

We have always felt that the government’s position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional… While we will continue to strive to eliminate expletives from live broadcasts, the inherent challenges broadcasters face with live television, coupled with the human element required for monitoring, must allow for the unfortunate isolated instances where inappropriate language slips through.

FCC indecency rule struck down by appeals court [L.A. Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    So maybe Super Bowl shows won’t be exceedingly lame anymore.

    I’m for it, networks (as evil as they are sometimes) shouldn’t be massively fined and/or lose their license because an expletive or nudity crops up totally on accident when there was a reasonable exectation that such an occurance would not present itself.

    • c!tizen says:

      Here Here, let the nipples fly!!!!

    • TehQ says:

      Nah Super Bowl shows will always be exceedingly lame, maybe just more nipples now.

    • duxup says:

      I don’t think they’d be Super Bowl shows without being lame.

    • TimothyT says:

      The NFL picks the halftime show, not the networks. They were (rightfully) embarrassed by the stupidity and lack of respect of the MTV produced burlesque show featuring the infamous nipple.

    • Griking says:

      How does an expletive crop on “on accident”? Are we to the point where people are no longer responsible for what they say?

      IMO the FCC had the right idea but went about it wrong. If Bono swears on a awards show or Janet Jackson’s nipple shows up on screen then fine the hell out of Bono and Janet Jackson, not the broadcaster which has limited control of live shows.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        First amendment, bitch.

      • Conformist138 says:

        The speaker might not say it on accident, but that doesn’t mean the network planned it or saw it coming. And, who cares if they do say a “naughty word”? Time to get over the superstition that some words are inherently bad. We (humans) invented them in the first place, they have no special powers. As for nudity, well, that predates the language.

        Jesus Christ on a cracker, who was ever harmed by seeing a tit or hearing one of the 7 words? Millions in fines has always seemed stupid for something that merely “offends” a person but causes no harm other than the fury of their own making. Besides, it’s 2010, any parent scared their kid will hear “fuck” on tv needs to know their angel has already seen the definition of that word on the internet.

        • Griking says:

          So are you telling me that there shouldn’t be any limits at all? Should a kindergarten teacher be allowed to swear casually in their classes? How about a first grade teacher? At what age are you ok with people dropping the “F” bomb when speaking with your children? I’m not a prude and I do swear myself but I also know that there are some places where it’s just not acceptable such as in public and in front of other people’s children.

          • BomanTheBear says:

            lol @ strawman argument.

            I think we should devote less time to fining people for cussing and more time trying to ban the invisible wizards to come turn your child into a reprobatic terrible citizen when they hear the word “fuck.”

          • BrienBear Thinks Stupidity Defies Logic says:

            Why is it that every other civilized country in the world allows far more lax restrictions in their television standards than we do, (and let us not forget a few other things, such as openly gay people in the military, etc etc) and they all seem to be doing JUST FINE but one nipple here in The Good Ole U.S. of A and we run screaming for the hills?

            Christ, it was a nipple, not vajayjay. Not hardcore porn. A nipple. Or a swear word. Teach yer damn kids that saying that isn’t appropriate and leave it at that.

          • Rectilinear Propagation says:

            Bono did not drop the F-bomb in a grade-school classroom and Justin Timberlake did not tear Janet’s shirt off in front of a bunch on kindergartners.

          • coren says:

            I think you missed Conformist’s point – the word is only bad because we deemed it so. It’s not as if a group of kindergartners saying shit fuck piss or whatever would be bad if people didn’t get so offended by it. Like, I could start swearing at you in Japanese, and you wouldn’t get offended if you didn’t know Japanese/what those words meant.

      • coren says:

        You’ve never hurt yourself accidentally (hammered your finger, stubbed your toe, cut yourself, whatever) and said a bad word? Sometimes, this happens to people on TV too.

  2. PupJet says:

    Yay to F-Bombs! And the HELL with kids hearing foul language….there is a 99.9% chance that they will hear it outside of the TV vs ON TV so I personally see ZERO problem with them even hearing it on TV.

    • Jdavis says:

      That’s what I’ve never understood. I babysat for some kids and would pick them up outside a suburban elementary school… the language was certainly saltier than what the FCC permits. …What was that about protecting the children?

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      LOL we learned all our curse words on the school bus, from the older kids!

      • Spaceman Bill Leah says:

        Not true! I learned to swear at Girl Scout camp.

        • pot_roast says:

          I learned all of mine from my parents! Although back when I was a little kid, movies had a particular “N word” … but far fewer swear words.

      • chaesar says:

        I learned my first swears while riding a school bus to some summer church program.

        Delicious irony.

    • anduin says:

      thats why I make a point of swearing at groups of children when I see them, so the media can’t blame TV or entertainment but rather that foul man on the street.

    • Bakergirl says:

      I learned mine in a private elementary baptist school. A kid tried to dare me to say Sh!t so he could tattle to the teacher about ti.

  3. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Erm, wait, so it was struck down because it was just “vague” and not plain-old “unconstitutional”? (Yes, I understand the difference between unconstitutional and unconstitutionally vague.)

    Not enough. The whole thing should be tossed into the trash.

    FCC’s job is to parcel out the limited frequency spectrum space we have. Anything more is just sad.

    • Billy says:

      Vague laws are unconstitutional because they are a violation of due process.


      • Crim Law Geek says:

        I think Applekid’s point is that it should have been struck down because it violates the 1st Amendment (as well as due process for the vagueness), not just because it’s so vague it violates DP

        • CompyPaq says:

          The difference is that there is precedent to limit “harmful” speech under the first amendment. Here, the rules were so vague that it was difficult to tell the difference between “possibly inappropriate” speech and “harmful” speech so the networks erred on the side of caution.

        • rockasocky says:

          Obscenity isn’t protected speech, so it doesn’t receive full 1st Amendment protection. As a result, regulations that deal with obscenity will usually be struck down on vagueness grounds, if they’re stuck down at all.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            The question is: Who decides what’s “obscene”? Apparently only the vocal minority that organizes letter-writing campaigns to the FCC every time they hear anything that somehow offends their delicate sensibilities, and not those of us who might like to watch, say, Bob Saget, Penn & Teller, or an episode of The Daily Show.

            What’s interesting is that these people constantly write to the FCC, and yet CONTINUE TO WATCH PROGRAMMING THEY PERSONALLY FIND OFFENSIVE. Like picking up a copy of Playboy every week and then complaining about all the tits.

    • sleze69 says:

      Agree. It went through the same creep that lots of government organizations go through (social security turning from a pension into welfare for the crippled for example).

      F the FCC

      • Conformist138 says:

        Darn right, tell those cripples to get off their asses and getta job!

        • sleze69 says:

          No…pay them with their own fund. Similar to the difference between Medicare (for old people) and Medicaid (for poor people).

    • dg says:

      It was struck down because the broadcasters didn’t know exactly what they must do, and when they must do it to avoid running afoul of the law.

      If the FCC had clear rules rather than vague rules, they might have been upheld during prime time hours.

      Then again, you can’t get more vague than the PATRIOT act and it’s secret BS, so who knows? Maybe this ruling will set a precedent and that idiocy will be gone next…

  4. Tim says:

    Eh. This is just the circuit court. Don’t worry, soon SCOTUS will make sure we get fined out the ass for saying … well, “ass.”

    • Commenter24 says:

      I’m not so sure about that. Most of the Supremes tend to be very protective of speech.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      SCOTUS’ job is solely to ensure the Constitution is being upheld. They are not here to institue fines, which would be through passing a law or making policies which they cannot and will never do.

      • dolemite says:

        Where in the constitution does it say corporations are tax paying citizens that deserve equal rights as real people? I understand they are made UP of people, and each person has a right, but somehow the conglomeration of people also forms another entity that has the same rights as each individual person…

        • Doubts42 says:

          You do realize that you are merely parroting a democratic talking point right?
          research the case on your own without using HuffPro or MSNBC. The court struck down a restriction on publication (one aspect of free speech). The decision wasn’t perfect but it did not turn corporations into people.

          • dolemite says:

            Actually I was referring to the campaign contribution limits in my head, but your post reminded me of the other issue.

          • Lightman says:

            Corporations are legally persons in the United States and have been for over a century. Their rights are not identical to those of a flesh and blood individual, but they have certain rights under the constitution that derive from being persons.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Great Question!! It doesn’t. But the Constitution doesn’t say a lot of things. SCOTUS doesn’t make laws, then simply decide if those laws do or do not violate the Constitution.

        • RickinStHelen says:

          The constitution doesn’t, but the body of law includes cases that does imply corporations have the rights of people (Dartmouth College vrs Woodward, 1819, Santa Clara County vrs Southern Pacific Railroad, 1886).

      • Tim says:

        I know what SCOTUS does; you don’t have to tell me.

        What I was implying (but apparently I have to spell it out) is that SCOTUS will overturn the ruling, thus allowing FCC to enforce the rule. SCOTUS can do that; it’s just saying whether or not a regulation is constitutional. The 2nd circuit court made a very similar action when it ruled that the regulation is not constitutional.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Sorry, but I can’t assume you (or the readers) completely understand everything. It’s probably a good idea if you don’t assume that either. Know your audience – in this case your audience is varied with widely different ideas, beliefs, and levels of education.

  5. Mr. TheShack says:


  6. andyg8180 says:

    Here’s to some REAL superbowl half time shows!!

  7. ngoandy says:

    I wonder how the PTC is going to react. Those rules were the bread and butter of that organization.

    • Nick1693 says:

      I would have no problems if PTC would just give up. There is no snowflake too precious to not hear someone swear. Chances are, they learn the swears from the parents and the parents blame the TV for it.

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        Of course not. Snowflakes don’t have ears.

        • Nick1693 says:

          I see what you did there.

          But it’s true. The parents will swear around their kids and blame the TV when the kids repeat the words.

      • Griking says:

        I’m sure that your children will eventually be exposed to drugs at some point in their lives too Does that mean its ok if I offer them a toke of my pipe?

        • JJ! says:

          I’m not sure that “offering a toke of your pipe” is the same as them hearing someone swear. One’s a direct offer of something (most likely) illegal, and one is the use a harmless word.

          • RayanneGraff says:

            Exactly, it’s not like anybody is gonna go up to your kid & say, “hey there little fella, can you say s-h-i-t? C’mon, repeat after me!”

        • Rectilinear Propagation says:

          Nick said that people are learning these words from their parents, not random strangers.

          If a parent is handing their kids illegal drugs they can’t blame someone else when their kids get addicted.

        • coren says:

          By my parents? Yeah, I doubt that. Slight difference (now, by my brother is another matter…)

  8. andyg8180 says:

    American TV sucks… I saw Kitchen Nighmares in Costa Rica and man, the Eff bombs really do make the show better… Its real life, you shouldnt censor real life… Family Guy anyone?

    • p. observer says:

      personally i prefer eric idles version of the fcc song http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3821780761174032438# (NSFW-seriously)

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      Have you ever seen The F Word? It’s a Gordon Ramsey show based in Britain; it’s hilarious to actually hear him drop the F-bomb after hearing it censored on Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares for so long. It’s also a really great show-more like a culinary variety show with cooking demos, competitions, face-offs and farming projects.

  9. tobedetermined says:

    Bab booey! Bab booey! Bab booey!

    (I can’t resist; long time Stern listener)

  10. Tiandli says:

    Since there’s no fine, I wonder how many “accidents” will start happening to help perk ratings on sagging shows.

  11. evnmorlo says:

    I don’t see how only “fleeting expletives” are protected speech under the constitution. “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” Shiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet! No means no!

    • Commenter24 says:

      I haven’t read the decision, but i can see a difference in the fact that the networks can prepare for scripted shows, etc. and show them with no fear of running afoul of the FCC. The problem with fleeting expletives is that they can’t be prepared for, and avoided, so the networks have to choose between broadcasting a particular show and risking a huge fine, or simply keeping it off the air. This “chilling” effect is the concern.

    • Billy says:

      Here’s an article explaining how the FCC interacts with the First Amendment:
      Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation

      • evnmorlo says:

        Fuck, I just reported that article for referencing obscene, indecent, and offensive Supreme Court decisions. In fact, since the only reason anyone seeks appointment to SCOTUS is to pick up women for objectionable sexual acts, the court is itself clearly obscene and should shut itself down immediately.

    • Griking says:

      IMO swearing in public is like yelling fire in a crowded theater. Just because you think you can legally do it doesn’t mean that you should.

      • Smashville says:

        And frankly, I think that’s bullshit.

      • BomanTheBear says:

        The more arguments I see you make on this article, the more it seems you have retarded opinions about this subject. You may be a very smart person (you probably are), but “the good of the children” fucks up way too many “rights of the adults.”

        Yelling fire in a public theater is not covered by the constitution, seeing as it’s public endangerment. Look up Schenck v. United States for reference. Sorry to say, cussing in public is legal and rightfully protected by the constitution, despite what makes your delicate ears uncomfortable, the same way that saying an opinion you vehemently disagree with is protected.

      • coren says:

        And unlike yelling fire it doesn’t hurt anyone.

        Who is harmed by hearing bad words? Do they cause a panic? Bleeding of the eyes and ears?

  12. varro says:

    I learned my profanity at home – from my parents.

  13. slim150 says:

    these are the reasons why i think anyone who ever utters these words “think of the children” as a reason to do anything is INSANE. this is (before this news) is what happens

    • cmdr.sass says:

      Exhibit A: Tipper Gore

    • BomanTheBear says:

      Mass sterilization is arguably behind this newest generation’s way higher allergy rates and weaker immune systems.

      It follows that shielding their precious eyes until they turn 18 might, JUST MIGHT, fuck them up royally when they finally get to see the world as the messy place it is.

  14. ihollywould says:

    I used to be a DJ for a local station and occasionally I would do live on-air interviews with bands. I had a very strict “let the bands know the rules” sort of intro spiel I would go through with all artists, which included, of course, “don’t swear or I go to commercial immediately.” This was because our station was subject to the double FCC fine: once for the station, once for the DJ.

    I didn’t know it, but one member of this band was very nervous, thus very drunk (despite it being 4:00 PM). He also ignored my repeated instructions. When he said “shit,” I immediately gave a sign-off line and cut to a commercial.

    For months, I was terrified someone from the FCC was going to show up at my door and slap me with that $300,000 fine and ruin my life. Luckily, neither of my listeners reported me.

    I, for one, am very glad the FCC have decided to lift their rules on incidental swearing.

  15. SmackmYackm says:

    Americans truly need to get over this so called “foul language” taboo. How is it we’re the country that celebrates having the most freedom while thumbing ours noses at the rest of the world, yet you can’t say a so-called “bad word” with out offending people? They’re just fucking words people!

    • Commenter24 says:


    • evnmorlo says:

      Freedom of religion has led many to join sects that demand “clean” language. And they vote for “devout” politicians who demand censorship to protect their constituents from the Devil’s words.

    • aaron8301 says:

      Indeed. Also, compare ABC, NBC, CBS, or FOX to the BBC. While England and most of Europe have embraced the human body and don’t mind seeing it, we Americans are apparently very offended by it, even though almost all of us have one ourselves.

    • erinpac says:

      The whole point of “bad words” is to offend/ shock.
      Once they stop doing so, people move on to new “bad words”

    • TimothyT says:

      The US has bad language on TV, geeze! Just not over the air on free TV so as to not give granny a heart attack. The FCC has been put in a predicament of trying to appeal to the general public. Ridicules fines notwithstanding, I think the general public can agree that not having smut broadcast over the air for mass consumption is probably a good idea.
      Now, if you subscribe to cable/satellite (most do), there’s plenty of boobs, bad language, and general obscenities to make a sailor blush, so have fun!

    • pot_roast says:

      We have idiotic groups like the “Parents Television Council” that gets royally pissed off when everything on TV isn’t “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” or something equally heartwarming.

  16. Difdi says:

    Maximum of $350,000? And when do they ever apply anything but the maximum fines?

  17. TehQ says:

    We can show all kinds of graphic violence on tv but oh noes a nipple. Its going to scare kids for life. And if parents think that hearing a bad word on tv is a bad influence on their kids obviously they need to find out what their kids hear on the play ground.

  18. Big Mama Pain says:

    I have a string of “fleeting expletives” for the FCC….

  19. TuxRug says:

    Just come up with a new rating for live events… Instead of “Y”, “G”, “MA”, etc, use “??” or “L” for live, unpredictable broadcasts. Boom, problem solved, everyone gets to go home early and watch their ??-rated sports.

  20. ZacharyTF says:

    I’m not surprised that the PTC misinterpreted the ruling. Those morons could spin shit coming out of Jesus’ ass into gold.

  21. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Dunno about unconstitutional, but it is lame, considering 5 year olds now know how to curse.

  22. MotorboatJones says:

    Go Mets!

  23. JedediahJ says:

    You can’t tell anyone what to say or not to say but I sure wish the general public tried harder to speak more respectfully.

  24. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    or, in the words of Eric Cartman:

    “What’s the big deal? It doesn’t hurt anyone. Fuck, fuckity, fuck-fuck-fuck.”

  25. mathfeel says:

    I also celebrates the result, but why is consumerist self-censoring? I mean you are not fooling anyone that the * in f*ck is u.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      At one point people complained that a filtering program was blocking Consumerist because it thought it was a porn site. It could be that Consumerist censors it’s headlines so as not to get caught in filtering software for people who are browsing at work and the user’s whose parents have put filtering software on their computers.

  26. JollyJumjuck says:

    These fines are just a money grab by anally-retentive idiots who really need to be removed from their positions of power.

  27. NewsMuncher says:

    Why the stab at Fox News?

  28. NotEd says:

    Well it’s a start.
    Frankly with V-chip controls built into all tuning devices that work with digital ATSC broadcasts, as well as similar controls in cable a sattelite receivers, we should have been able to stop having the FCC dicate content. It seems as long as they control the ratings I don’t need them to stop something from being shown when I could do so myself.
    Unfortunately it will take a while for US broadcasters to have the freedom to show more adult programming like they did prior to “Nipplegate”, much less progress beyond to allow for even more open programming. Still, at least we can work out way back to where we were now.

    (And I know radio is different.)

  29. shibblegritz says:

    I’m all for free speech, but I do worry that these sorts of attitudes are leading us down a path along which acceptance of “fleeting expletives” turns into acceptance of “occasional expletives” turns into a blessing to air an entire episode of television using nothing but profanities.

    Television executives will make much of their defense of free speech, but what they’re really after is the almighty dollar, and if they can titillate with a few well-placed curses, they’ll do it.

    There’s a time and a place for profanities, and the argument that “everyone else is doing it” just doesn’t fly. There’s nothing wrong with trying to teach our kids to have a sense of propriety and common decency when in public. The notion that it’s perfectly fine to curse on prime time television, which is where this will lead, doesn’t help with that.

    • NotEd says:

      Do you prefer that all televisision be sanitized? Because I have no problem with family friendly programming being put on at family friendly hours. I do resent having less variety in my viewing outside those hours because the FCC blanket punishes for any infraction.

      And “fleeting expletives” can be dealt with by broadcasting on a delay. No big deal.