Court of appeals gives lashing to FCC in indecency case

The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals has not only upheld a ruling in favor of TV networks, but it also lashed out against the FCC in its 32-page ruling.

At issue was the FCC’s “fleeting expletive” policy. During the 2003 Golden Globe Awards telecast, U2 lead singer unintentionally slipped the f-word during an acceptance speech. It was broadcasted live to millions of homes.

Although the FCC did not fine NBC for the incident, it did subsequently go back to other unscripted TV shows and fined broadcasters for similar fleeting profanity that made its way to the airwaves.

However, the networks came together and sought to put an end to these shenanigans, claiming that FCC policies were confusing, vague, and ultimately unconstitutional. They joined together to sue the FCC, and so far no judge has found in favor of the TV censoring board.

The latest victory comes from the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which today upheld an earlier court ruling that FCC policies are “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.”

The legal case has been ongoing since 2006, and in that time alone the media landscape has wildly changed, especially with Hulu, Youtube, and social networking sites now dominating the public consumption.

However, the court reaffirmed that the FCC policy to ban scripted profanity on network TV is still in effect, though it questioned the FCC’s track record with even adhering to that.

“There is little rhyme or reason to [the FCC’s] decisions and broadcasters are left to guess whether an expletive will be deemed ‘integral’ to a program,” the ruling continued to say.

The FCC will try to take the case to the next and final step, the Supreme Court, which could be a landmark case in the history of media censorship. Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president of the Media Access Project and proponent for musicians and producers in this legal battle, told the Wall Street Journal, “The next stop is the Supreme Court, and we’re confident that the justices will affirm this decision.”