Supreme Court rules against FCC in Nicole Richie profanity case

American designer, Nicole Richie poses for photographs at a House of Harlow launch event at David Jones Elizabeth Street on May 26.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the federal government’s regulation of broadcast profanity and nudity, saying the Federal Communications Commission had not given fair notice of a change in policy.

The unanimous high court ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, declared that the FCC’s standards were vague as applied to the specific broadcasts in the case. It did not decide the larger question of whether the indecency policy violated constitutional free-speech rights.

Under the changed policy which dated to 2001 and was amended in 2004, broadcasters can be fined for airing a single profanity blurted out on a live show or for brief nudity. Government lawyers said it covered the “F-word” and the “S-word” that denote “sexual or excretory activities,” respectively.

The justices threw out a lower-court ruling that struck down the policy on speech grounds and the justices said several options are before the commission, including modifying its policy.

The case involved 2002 and 2003 awards shows on News Corp’s Fox television network when singer Cher blurted out an expletive and actress Nicole Richie used two expletives. The FCC said the network violated its indecency rules.

The case also involved a seven-second shot of a woman’s nude buttocks on a 2003 “NYPD Blue” episode on Walt Disney Co’s ABC network that led to $1.21 million in fines.

The FCC already had launched its indecency crackdown when pop star Janet Jackson briefly exposed her bare breast during a 2004 broadcast of a halftime show for the Super Bowl football game, drawing half a million complaints.

Kennedy in the ruling based the decision on the constitutional due process requirement, saying that broadcasters had to be given fair notice of the policy and the restrictions.

“A fundamental principle in our legal system is that laws which regulate persons or entities must give fair notice of conduct that is forbidden or required,” he wrote in the 18-page opinion.

He said there was no need to address the constitutional free-speech issue under the First Amendment.

The FCC can impose fines of $325,000 on each station that airs indecent material, including images and words, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Critics like the broadcast industry said the policy had been applied inconsistently, with the FCC allowing the television broadcast of profanity in the World War Two movie “Saving Private Ryan” and of nudity in the movie “Schindler’s List.”

The FCC policy applies only to broadcast television and radio. Neither cable nor satellite channels are subject to FCC content regulation.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2009 on narrower grounds that the FCC’s indecency policy was a rational and legally permissible use of the FCC’s administrative powers, but did not reach the free-speech issue at that time.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not take part in the latest ruling. She considered the dispute previously as a U.S. appeals court judge in New York.

The Supreme Court case is FCC v. Fox Television Stations and FCC v. ABC Inc, No. 10-1293.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Sprint and T-Mobile offer further price discounts

Sprint unveiled a plan on Thursday that gives subscribers access to unlimited data for $60 a month, the industry's cheapest unlimited data offering.

National

Hundreds pay it forward at Florida Starbucks in…

The spontaneous chain of kindness continued for about 11 hours, totaling 457 transactions by the time it ended.

National

Weather system east of Caribbean could turn into…

An area of low pressure located east of the Caribbean Sea has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or storm in the next 48 hours, U.S. forecasters…

National

U.S. hospital to discharge doctor treated with experimental…

An American doctor who contracted Ebola treating victims of the deadly virus in Liberia has recovered and will be discharged on Thursday by the Atlanta hospital that treated him with…

Movies

Review: 'When the Game Stands Tall' is both…

The high school football saga "When the Game Stands Tall" fumbles around for a focus while Jim Caviezel offers the most low-key coach in history.

Movies

Girlfriend in a coma: Chloe Grace Moretz

Chloe Grace Moretz is the best cheerleader "If I Stay" could ask for. As the star of the film adaptation of the successful YA novel…

The Word

The Word: Summer lovin' for Zac Efron and…

Ah, the summer romance. So intense, so fleeting. With Labor Day fast approaching, it should come as little surprise that the incredibly surprising romance between…

The Word

The Word: The Zac Efron-Michelle Rodriguez summer fling…

  Ah, the summer romance. So intense, so fleeting. With Labor Day fast approaching, it should come as little surprise that the incredibly surprising romance…

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Jets storylines to watch

Metro looks at three Jets storylines to watch as they play the Giants Friday.

NFL

Giants expected to work Corey Washington into first-team…

The day of reckoning for the Giants' fringe players will fall upon them Friday night against the Jets.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…