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By GENE POLICINSKI
First Amendment Center
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider next term whether to uphold or throw out the government’s rules about what broadcasters can put on over-the-airwaves TV when young children may be watching.
The dispute involves a policy issued in 2001 by the Federal Communications Commission regarding nudity and profanity on broadcast television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. — when children are likely among viewers — and a 2004 FCC decision to extend the policy to include so-called “fleeting expletives,” profanity or obscenity not part of a scripted program.
The justices said recently they would review two rulings by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that voided the FCC’s policies as too vague to be enforced.
The Court will hear arguments from networks and the government in its next term, which begins in October.
Broadcasters and First Amendment advocates argue the policies are outdated, given programming available to most of the nation on cable TV, satellite channels and the Internet. Some opponents also claim the policies have a chilling effect on valued programming, such as widely honored movies like “Saving Private Ryan,” where profanity by soldiers is appropriate, and that the regulations even could influence news broadcasts that are exempt from the FCC rules.
Several incidents are at the heart of the legal battle:
During the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, singer Cher said, “I’ve also had critics for the last 40 years saying that I was on my way out every year. Right. So f*** ‘em.”
During the 2003 Billboard Music Awards, celebrity Paris Hilton said, “Have you ever tried to get cow sh** out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f***ing simple.”
During a broadcast of the 2003 Golden Globe Awards televised by Fox, award recipient and U2 band member Bono said, “This is really, really, f***ing brilliant. Really, really, great.”
In 2003, an episode of ABC’s primetime police drama “NYPD Blue” fleetingly showed a woman’s buttocks during a shower scene.
The Supreme Court in 1978 upheld the FCC’s overall power to ban certain words and images from public airwaves in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, a case that involved the broadcast of comedian George Carlin’s “Dirty Words,” a monologue in which he sarcastically commented on words that were banned from broadcast radio or TV.
Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, is a veteran journalist whose career has included work in newspapers, radio, television and online.