In a 5-to-4 ruling, the top court upheld the regulator's 2004 decision to hold broadcasters liable for the occasional expletive.
The US Supreme Court has delivered some welcome news to parents worried about their children hearing foul language on broadcast television.
In a 5-to-4 decision announced Tuesday, the high court said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not abuse its discretion in a 2004 crackdown on indecent language on prime time TV. The majority said the FCC did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when it announced that broadcasters might be held liable for the occasional use of a single indecent word on public airwaves.
"Today's ruling by the Supreme Court is an incredible victory for families," said Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, in a statement. "We must put the well-being of children first and allow certain hours of the broadcast day to be a safe haven for families."
The case likely sets the stage for a broader free-speech showdown in the future between government regulators and broadcasters.
The action reverses a decision of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which ruled the agency failed to follow proper procedures in cracking down against the increasing use of the so-called "f" word and "s" word on broadcast television.
The crackdown marked a major shift from a long-time FCC policy that broadcasters would not be punished for the occasional, isolated blooper.
Under the old policy, only repetitive and intentional use of foul language in a broadcast would trigger sanctions, and even then only if the conduct rose to the level of verbal "shock treatment."
That more forgiving policy held for 25 years. It was aimed at balancing broadcasters' First Amendment free-speech rights against the government's interest in helping parents protect their children from indecency on radio and television.
Page 1 of 4