Indecency on the Airwaves: Court Rules Against FCC

A new ruling will make it much harder for the Federal Communications Commission to go after broadcast networks for the inadvertent use of on-air profanity.

The ruling came after the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals looked at a case against Fox TV for two incidents. One involved Cher using the f-word on the 2002 Billboard Music Awards, the other involved Nicole Richie using an expletive on the 2003 Billboard Music Awards.

The appeals court's 2-1 decision returned the case to the FCC, saying the agency could try to explain how its policy was not "arbitrary and capricious." The court said it doubted the FCC could.

The impact of this decision will no doubt reach far beyond those two episodes. The federal appeals court questioned the constitutionality of the FCC's strict policy which goes after accidental use of profanity on the broadcast networks.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is firing back after the court's ruling. "I find it hard to believe that the New York court would tell American families that (expletives) are fine to say on broadcast television," he said.

The new government policy was put into place after a January 2003 NBC broadcast of the Golden Globes in which U2 lead singer Bono used the phrase "f---ing brilliant." The FCC said his phrase had a sexual connotation.

The case also looked at other previous findings of indecency, including expletives used by the character Andy Sipowicz on the one-time ABC hit "NYPD Blue." Networks have long fought the stricter rules.

Fox praised the ruling, saying the tougher regulation serves no purpose other than to chill artistic expression in violation of the First Amendment.

And the court even pointed to President Bush. It said this stricter policy came at a time when even Bush was heard one day telling British Prime Minister Tony Blair the U.N. needed to "get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s---."