The Supreme Court unanimously ruled today to throw out fines the FCC was seeking from networks for showing nudity and swearing on TV, in violation of their indecency policy.
The trial began back in January. AP notes that the length of time it took the Court to reach their decision may indicate some dissent in the ranks. And the justices stopped short of finding the FCC’s indecency policy unconstitutional altogether, as networks hoped they would. But they did rule ABC can’t be fined for a bare butt it showed on a 2003 episode of “NYPD Blue.”
Other offenses dating back about 10 years include Cher saying “Fuck ‘em” on the Billboard Music Awards show, Bono saying “fucking brilliant” on NBC’s broadcast of the Golden Globes, and Nicole Richie asking rhetorically on Fox’s Billboard awards broadcast, “Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It’s not so fucking simple.”
The networks argued that they’re being unfairly targeted by the 1978 Court decision that found them to be “uniquely pervasive” in culture and therefore subject to rules regulating their free speech. In the intervening decades other outlets have attained equal ubiquity—from the cable stations that live right next door to them on the TV lineup to the entire internet—that are still unregulated. Restricting expression just for the old broadcast networks no longer makes any sense, they say.
The decision leaves both sides claiming victory since it stopped short of tossing out the FCC’s indecency policy altogether. The AP reports “the justices said the FCC is free to revise its indecency policy,” whatever that means. But as it stands, they’re done upholding the kinds of fines the FCC has been looking to impose on networks.