November 4, 2008
Supreme Court Hears FCC Fleeting Expletive Case
The Supreme Court held oral arguments this morning in the case of FCC. Fox Television Stations, Inc. The case came via the Second Circuit, which threw out the FCC's fleeting expletive ban. The FCC changed its policy of some tolerance depending on circumstances to what amounted to zero tolerance in 2004. The Second Circuit determined that the FCC had not adequately explained its rationale in changing its policy. Fox was cited by the FCC and fined for fleeting uses of variations on the F- and S-words by Bono, Cher, and others during live broadcasts. Whether or not the performers should have known better, or cared, Fox did not bleep the broadcasts. Horrified people who never saw them inundated the FCC with complaints.
News reports suggest that the Court did not telegraph its views on whether the FCC's policy is reasonable or adequately justified. Justice Stevens seemed skeptical that the offending words always had a sexual or excretory meaning. Justices Roberts and Scalia took a different and predictable view. The government suggested that the negating the policy would lead to swearing shows generally, suggesting an admittedly extreme example of Big Bird swearing in Sesame Street. That would more likely show up in a Sesame Street parody on Family Guy (Sundays on Fox, 9 PM eastern, 8 PM central) where the words would be bleeped. If you want to find swear words in a children's program, look for Spongebob Squarepants Season 2, Episode 15 called Sailor Mouth, where Spongebob and Patrick unwittingly pick up bad words (all sound effects, of course) and think they are "sentence enhancers." Mr. Krabbs sets them straight until he stubs his toe. Remember, kids watch this and the FCC never says boo.
I wonder why Fox just doesn't go with a 7 second delay on live broadcasts and bleep the words as the telecast goes out. It's not as if anyone, even children, don't know what is the spoken underlying word. The context alone gives it away. Spongebob proves that.
The case was argued today, and the transcript is available at the Supreme Court website. [MG]
November 4, 2008 | Permalink
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