>The Supreme Court has upheld a crackdown by the Federal Communications Commission on the use of indecent language–even the fleeting utterance of a single expletive–on broadcast television. At least for now…
An earlier federal appeals panel had overturned recent FCC policy, which had arisen largely in response to brief and spontaneous exclamations during live awards programs from the likes of Cher, Bono and Nicole Richie, chiefly involving the ever-popular and–as referred to by the court– “f-” and “s-” words.
This latest decision supports the FCC’s contention that profanity referring to sex or excrement is always indecent, no matter the context. But, as noted in an AP account of the court’s ruling:
Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that the FCC missed the mark in failing to distinguish how the offending words are used. “As any golfer who has watched his partner shank a short approach knows,” said Stevens, an avid golfer, “it would be absurd to accept the suggestion that the resultant four-letter word uttered on the golf course describes sex or excrement.
While today’s ruling dealt solely with whether the FCC had followed proper administrative procedures in establishing the new policy, still to be addressed is whether or not the restrictions are constitutional in the first place, with promising glimmers that the entire question of limits on broadcast speech may be reconsidered whole hog. Though Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the majority on this ruling, the AP story continues, he noted that the court’s previous decision and an even earlier case “were unconvincing when they were issued, and the passage of time has only increased doubt regarding their continued validity.”
The last major ruling by the Supreme Court on broadcast indecency was in 1978, when it upheld the FCC’s case involving George Carlin’s classic “seven dirty words,” as so infamously recounted below: