Political Education

Supreme Court decision: The FCC vs Fox Televisions Stations

Other than losing my ability to type today, the Supreme Court has issued a decision on FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc..  The Supreme Court reverses the decision of the lower court without ruling a change in the profanity clause.  Basically, since George Carlin uttered his “seven words” routine, there has been a line of what one can say on television.  Before 2001, the ruling was that the word or nudity could not be focused on or repeated.  The court dealt with three separate cases brought against Fox television stations:  One was Cher saying the F-Word, one was Nicole Richie saying the F-Word twice, and the last was an NYPD Blue episode showing a woman’s naked butt and side boob with a young boy running into the naked woman.  The most important part of the brief states:

“It is necessary to make three observations about the scope of this decision. First, because the Court resolves these cases on fair notice grounds under the Due Process Clause, it need not address the First Amendment implica­tions of the Commission’s indecency policy. It is argued that this Court’s ruling in Pacifica (and the less rigorous standard of scrutiny it provided for the regulation of broadcasters, see 438 U. S. 726) should be overruled be­cause the rationale of that case has been overtaken by technological change and the wide availability of multiple other choices for listeners and viewers. See, e.g., ABC Brief 48–57; Brief for Respondent Fox Television Stations,Inc., et al. 15–26. The Government for its part maintains that when it licenses a conventional broadcast spectrum,the public may assume that the Government has its own interest in setting certain standards. See Brief for Peti­tioners 40–53. These arguments need not be addressed here. In light of the Court’s holding that the Commission’spolicy failed to provide fair notice it is unnecessary to reconsider Pacifica at this time. This leads to a second observation. Here, the Court rules that Fox and ABC lacked notice at the time of their broadcasts that the material they were broadcasting could be found actionably indecent under then-existing policies. Given this disposition, it is unnecessary for the Court to address the constitutionality of the current indecency policy as expressed in the Golden Globes Order and sub­sequent adjudications. The Court adheres to its normal practice of declining to decide cases not before it. See, e.g., Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U. S. 629, 631 (1950) (“Broader issues have been urged for our consideration, but we adhere to the principle of deciding constitutional ques­tions only in the context of the particular case before the Court”). Third, this opinion leaves the Commission free to modify its current indecency policy in light of its determination of the public interest and applicable legal requirements. And it leaves the courts free to review the current policy or any modified policy in light of its content and application.”

Basically, this statement says that the FCC can’t change its stance on what profanity is just because it wants to, or Janet Jackson shows her boob, and issue huge fines.  It also says that the constitutionality of the FCC is the same and that the FCC has the right to regulate what is on television. But they must tell the broadcasters beforehand.  The court states the FCC has the right to modify its current policy.  So, basically, nothing has changed. But the groundwork has been set for a case that one day may state the FCC doesn’t have the right to regulate morality due to the fact there are so many choices and under the original Carlin ruling there weren’t as many choices to the American viewer.

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