Supreme Court Says FCC’s Indecency Policy Could Use A *#@ing Revision

While the Supreme Court has previously sided with the Federal Communications Commission over its decision to ramp up its enforcement of indecency rules, today it ruled that the FCC screwed up when it decided to start slapping mammoth fines on broadcasters without warning.

In its unanimous decision, the court said that whether or not things like Charlotte Ross’ bare butt on NYPD Blue — which resulted in a $1.4 million fine levied against ABC — are violations of the FCC decency rules, broadcasters were not given fair warning that they would be subject to multimillion dollar sanctions for possible violations.

In the court’s published opinion, the FCC failed to give broadcasters “fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent.”

However, the Supremes have said the FCC is “free to modify its current indecency policy.”

Supreme Court Rules Against FCC in Indecency Case []


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  1. MattO says:

    “so do whatever you want….we won’t stop you, but just make sure you tell people first.”

    sounds like a wonderful plan.

    • CanadianDominic says:

      Isnt that the role of the Supreme Court? To interpret the laws, in letter and in spirit, that are already existing? If the legislation is wrong, thats the role of Congress to correct. The Supremes just flesh out and judge what’s already there.

      If the law says “do what you want, but tell people first” then that absolutely should be the prescription from the court, no?

      At least that’s what I remember from American 101 in my humble Canadian schools.

  2. Bladerunner says:

    I’ve never understood why standard broadcast networks are under stricter decency guidelines than cable providers, anyway.

    • bluline says:

      Scarcity of the airwaves. There’s a limited spectrum of airwaves, owned by the public, available for broadcast use, so the government issues licenses to broadcasters to prevent chaos (stations would interfere with each other if left to their own designs). With the license comes a pledge for the broadcasters to act “in the public interest,” so that’s where these regulations come from. Cable and satellite don’t have the same spectrum scarcity that broadcasters do because they don’t operate using the public airwaves and because people pay a subscription to receive the programming. Thus, the FCC has far less control over cable and satellite than it does over the over-the-air broadcasters.

      • Bladerunner says:

        But satellite uses the public airwaves as much as broadcast, and cable is run via wires that have been eminent domained through people’s property.

        • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

          Broadcast is free – theoretically you receive it without trying or asking for it.
          Satellite / Cable requires you to subscribe, thus agreeing that you don’t care what you see.

          You’ve agreed you don’t care about indecency when you PAY for the service, instead of just having indecency shoved into your face without provocation, basically.

          • Bladerunner says:

            Bad argument, there. You have to pay for a receiver to receive broadcast TV, as much as you have to pay for a service to receive satellite. It’s not like TV is broadcast directly into our brains whether we want it to or not…

            Plus, whatever happened to the V-chip? Since every TV has that now, shouldn’t it be easy to simply put on whatever you want, but rate it “Adults only”?

            • scoutermac says:

              No. Regardless of who has to pay what for equipment. The fact remains. OTA digital signals that come into your home are free. Satellite/cable channels are scrambled/encoded so you must pay to unlock them. Meaning if you pay to unlock them you agree to accept what they show. However, basic cable channels are still held to their own standard. One example is how MTV has been wanting to be able to show full or partial nudity for many years but the FCC will not allow them due to their networks being available on a basic cable/satellite tv package.

              • Bladerunner says:

                And OTA signals require a receiver. Meaning if you tune in, you’ve chosen to tune into that station.

            • scoutermac says:

              The other problem is people could not figure out how to use and set a VCR. They still cannot figure out how to set the “v-chip”. I have also seen where some programs do not have a rating listed. Mostly older tv shows.

            • Firethorn says:

              pay for a receiver? In the old days you could just build one yourself, but even today you can still get one as a gift, from a thrift store, junk pile, etc…

              And in that case you’re buying a product that receives the transmission, while with cable you’re paying for the service. You CHOOSE to get the playboy channel or whatever. If you find it unacceptable, you don’t get cable(or it’s successors).

              You can say ‘if you don’t like it, don’t tune to the station’, but eh…

              • Bladerunner says:

                You’re right, you can.
                And you CHOOSE to buy/build/have a receiver. The point is that it’s all a choice. So why are there different requirements?

            • bluline says:

              You may think it’s a bad argument, but it’s the correct one. It’s been that way since the government started assigning frequencies to radio broadcasters.

              As for the V-chip, by law every TV sold in the U.S. for at least the last 15 years or so has come equipped with a V-chip or other system that allows parents to block individual shows or entire networks if they choose to do so. The problem is that most parents don’t bother with it. They’d rather the government do their parenting for them.

              • Bladerunner says:

                Not my problem if people are stupid. If the manufacturers are required to install a v-chip, that should off-set any argument for FCC limitations.

    • kathygnome says:

      The justification is that tv randomly wanders into our homes. It’s flimsy at best and it’s probably one of the reasons that network television is in decline while cable/sat/online is growing.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    Supreme Court; the treatment you need for sensitive
    eyes and ears, now available in a 9 ounce twisted tube.

  4. Murph1908 says:

    I still think it’s odd that we can see brutal stabbings and other violence, and have very sexual jokes and situations, but OMG, don’t show a butt!

    • dpeters11 says:

      Yeah, what shows can have in dialog (like on Big Bang Theory or Mike & Molly), is quite adult at times. I’m glad I don’t have kids, we can watch the previous nights True Blood at 6PM if we want to.

    • CityGuySailing says:

      I think is was a nipple. Just sayin’

    • TerpBE says:

      I still think it’s odd that we say “brutal stabbings and other violence” in the same breath as “sexual jokes and situations”

  5. Jawaka says:

    So in other words, they have the right to set standards rules and they have the right to fine broadcasters for breaking the rules but only if they warn the broadcasters up front that they intend on enforcing the rules? Shouldn’t it just be assumed that all rules will be enforced?

    • Torgonius wants an edit button says:

      I think the point of it, though, is that they need to have the schedule of fines out as part of the policy, kind of like the way most states have their traffic fines laid out.

      You should be able to look up on your state’s DMV/MVC website and see that a ticket for 1-10 mph over the limit is $X, 11-20 is Y$, etc.

      The FCC didn’t have that. They just said there’s fines for doing ‘bad’ things, then laid out whoppers.

  6. highfructosepornsyrup says:

    I think it’s wierd that the same folks that are always up in arms about govmint interference and all that are the ones that are always on the govmint to ban stuff for being “indecent” or “obscene”.

    • highfructosepornsyrup says:



      • Auron says:

        You have been fined a bajillion credits for violation of the Verbal Morality Statute. Someone will be with you shortly to take you into custody. Don’t forget to bring your seashells.

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        If you were a state senator you would be banned from the capitol floor. Good thing you’re just normal!

    • iesika says:

      Also to stop consenting adults from doing adult things.

  7. dwtomek says:

    I thought her bum was plenty decent. Guess that’s just the age gap rearing its head again.

  8. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Who cares – vote on the Health Care law for gripes sake! Stop stalling!

    • bluline says:

      It was voted on months ago, and the opinion probably was written soon afterwards. They are just waiting until the last minute, before adjourning for the summer, before releasing the vote. I’m sure they want to get the heck outta Dodge before the public has a chance to react, regardless of which way they voted.

  9. Cerne says:

    Disband the FCC

    • ARP says:

      Troll, but I’ll bite.

      Let’s let any person or business use any frequency they want. Airline trying to land and call a control tower? Guess you’ll have to compete with a guy ranting about the government from his nearby basement using the same frequency (is that you?). You won’t be able to watch TV, listen to the radio, have a wireless connection, use a mobile phone, have an effective emergency dispatch system, etc. since there might be competing interference. But you’re good with that.

      While we’re at it, we should allow for all media ownership and telecommunications ownership by one or two companies, I’m sure they’ll be responsible with their power.

      Rural areas shouldn’t get internet or phones. I mean they’re rural and its expensive to bring telecom service to those areas, so screw them.

      We should also eliminate any interoperability between communications networks- just let private industry sort that out. Sure, it may take years and cost consumers billions or even trillions of dollars, but its better than having a government agency maintain consistency with their “let’s let people communicate with each other for a low price” propaganda.

      Yes, let’s disband the FCC.

      PS- the people that want all the strict enforcement of decency standards are the conservatives. Remember the Janet Jackson boob incident? Dem’s didn’t lead the charge on that one (but they didn’t fight it too hard, I admit).

      PPS- the evil socialist country that is the UK/Britain has something called the Watershed. Before the watershed (9 p.m.), Family friendly programming only. After the watershed, adult programming is OK. But that’s a government thing, and government is bad.

      • Cerne says:

        Not a troll, just someone who thinks free speech is vital.

        Your points in order:

        1) We can assign (and sell) frequencies without a massive government agency constantly tries to increase the power it has over people’s lives.

        2) Actually yes relax ownership rules, other media companies will form and compete with the massive conglomerates.

        3) Having to pay the real cost of a service you use is not getting screwed.

        4) Yah because having a profit motive always makes things more buracrtic and horrible. That’s why fedex is so much worse than the post office.

        5) I’m not a conservative in the modern American sense of the word. Both major political parties use the government to regulate ideas they don’t like it doesn’t make it right.

        6) Yes because when I think “freedom” and “a society I want to live in” I think of a place where using a television requires a license and the police watch practically every public are with cameras all the time.

  10. yankinwaoz says:

    Gotta love the FCC.
    Turn all children’s programming into nothing but 30 minute product ads? Fine by us.
    Show heaps of violence, shootings, blood? Fine by us.
    Accidently show a nipple for 2 milliseconds. Horror! Fine them millions of dollars!

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      That’s one of my biggest complaints. Violence is something they don’t give a shit about, but our puritanical value system comes through and heaven forbid you see a human body! Oh heavens!

  11. 8bithero says:

    Oh yeah I know all about the FCC….

    They will clean up all your talking in a manner such as this
    They will make you take a tinkle when you wanna take a piss
    And they’ll make you call fellatio a trouser-friendly kiss

    Here’s the plain situation, theres no negotiation
    With the fellas at the freakin’ FCC

    They’re as stuffy as the stuffiest of special interest groups
    Make a joke about your bowels and they order in the troops
    Any baby with a brain could tell them everybody poops

    Take a tip, take a lesson,you’ll never win by messing
    With the fellas at the freakin’ FCC

    And if you find yourself with some young sexy thing
    You’re gonna have to do her with your ding-a-ling
    (Cos you can’t say penis)

    So they sent this little warning, they’re prepared to do their worst
    And they stuck it in your mailbox, hoping you could be coerced
    I can think of quite another place they should have stuck it first.

    They may just be neurotic, or possibly psychotic
    They’re the fellas at the freakin’ FCC

  12. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I know the OTA networks are treated differently, BUT here’s what isn’t right about it. If CBS accidentally shows a nipple, all hell breaks loose, because we have to think of the children.

    That same child can just tune into HBO, and watch nearly pornographic sex on any number of shows, or people being dismembered, or tune into AMC’s Walking Dead and watch zombie’s heads explode.

    This makes no sense.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Damn we need a like button.

    • kathygnome says:

      It’s only possible for a child to tune into those things if an adult pays someone to install extra equipment and specifically enable those shows to come into the home. That’s the justification for the difference.

      Be very careful what you ask for or we’ll end up with the censors on cable too.

      • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

        Yes, you’re right. I know there are quite a few parents who don’t pay any attention to what their kids watch on cable. When my daughter was in grade school, Beavis and Butthead were popular on MTV. I “removed” MTV from our channel lineup and the only TV was in our living room so I could monitor what was watched. One day she asked me what this was as the other kids were talking about it. And that wasn’t the only thing – the same aged kids were watching shows that made me blush.

    • bluline says:

      A kid can only tune into HBO if the parents have subscribed to it. No subscription, no viewing. That’s not the same as an OTA broadcast.

  13. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    I’d like to see more European censorship in this country. We censor swear words and sex and nudity, but murdering someone and blood and guts is A-OK!
    In Europe, the human body is not treated as if it should be hidden behind closed doors at all times – I mean fuck, we all have one, right? But violence is closely monitored and censored.
    Screw our backwards puritanical value system.

  14. gman863 says:

    For the FCC to punish broadcasters, they should develop a list of what words and acts are considered taboo.

    Hell, George Carlin covered the list of words 40 years ago (although “fart”, “turd” and “tits” have since slipped into the fair game arena of prime time).

    As for body parts and sex acts, this wouldn’t be tough, either. Think of the laws covering titty bars. Some cities require dancers to wear pasties covering their nipples; most have rules barring display of a bare vagina and all draw the line at allowing dancers and customers to touch each other.