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Supreme Court considers FCC's rein on foul words

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For nearly 30 years, that more forgiving standard established a balance between broadcasters' First Amendment free-speech rights and the government's interest in helping parents protect their children from indecency on radio and television.

The FCC changed its policy after a series of incidents on live music-award shows. The offenders include Cher, Bono, and Nicole Richie.

In December 2003, a Fox broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards included an appearance by Paris Hilton and Ms. Richie to promote their show "The Simple Life."

Hilton: "Now, Nicole, remember, this is a live show, watch the bad language."

Richie: "OK, God."

Hilton: "It feels so good to be standing here tonight."

Richie: "Yeah, instead of standing in mud and [live audio blocked]. Why do they even call it 'The Simple Life?' Have you ever tried to get cow [expletive] out of a Prada purse? It's not so [expletive] simple." (In the broadcast only the first use of the "s" word was blocked, the two other expletives were not.)

Roughly 2.3 million viewers under 18 saw the program and 1.1 million were under 12, according to the government.

The FCC concluded that the program included indecent language. The agency has the power to fine broadcasters and/or revoke their license. No punishment was imposed under the new policy, but broadcasters were warned that they would be punished in the future.

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