Originally published: June 21, 2012
Last updated: June 21, 2012 - 6:27pm
The Supreme Court struck down the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) fines of ABC and Fox for broadcasting "indecent" content. But the ruling was narrow.
The court unanimously found that the fines were illegal because the FCC failed to give fair notice that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity were considered indecent. The court said the enforcement was unconstitutionally "vague." But the court did not address whether fines over indecent content violate the First Amendment's free speech protections. Although the ruling was unanimous, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas issued a separate opinion saying the court should have reversed FCC v. Pacifica and struck down the indecency fines. Broadcasters had urged the court to strike down the FCC's entire indecency enforcement system as a violation of the First Amendment, but the court declined to overturn its 1978 decision in FCC v. Pacifica, which upheld the constitutionality of policing speech on the airwaves. In a statement, Robert McDowell, a Republican commissioner on the FCC, urged his agency to "expeditiously implement the Court’s decision to put an end to years of litigation and uncertainty regarding the Commission’s regulation of indecent content on America’s airwaves." "We owe it to the American public and the broadcast licensees involved to carry out our statutory duties with all deliberate speed," he said.
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