High Court Tees Up F-Word Case


Washington – The Federal Communications Commission will learn Feb. 29 whether the Supreme Court will take the case in which the agency is attempting to restore its authority to fine TV stations for the isolated, fleeting broadcast of the F-word under federal indecency laws.

The high court posted on its web site last week a notice that the nine justices would meet on the last day of the month to considered the FCC’s appeal, which has the support of the U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement.

The votes of four justices are needed to ensure the court’s review.

Last June, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in a 2-1 vote, ruled that FCC’s decision to start fining fleeting indecency was invalid because the agency failed to justify abandonment of its historic approach, which had focused on the repetitive, not the isolated, broadcast of indecent material.

Fox Television Stations, CBS Broadcasting Inc., ABC, Inc., and NBC Universal filed briefs asking the Supreme Court to reject the case and force the FCC to address deficiencies cited by the 2nd Circuit’s opinion.

The agency changed policy in 2004, finding that rock singer Bono’s use of “fucking brilliant” was indecent during NBC’s live coverage of the 2003 Golden Globe awards. NBC wasn’t fined because it didn’t have advance notice that FCC policy was changing.

The FCC later applied the Golden Globes standard to Fox’s live coverage of the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards. In 2002, singer-actress Cher used the phrase “fuck 'em’ in her acceptance remarks. A year later, Hollywood actress Nicole Richie used “cow shit” and “not so fucking simple” during an award presentation. Like NBC, Fox wasn’t fined for either incident.