Feeds

US appeals court smacks down FCC obscenity rule

F-bombs away!

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Fans of open-mic celebrity blunders rejoice!

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that the Federal Communication Commission's recent shift in its standards for obscenities uttered during a broadcast violated administrative rulemaking requirements. After declaring the new standards null and void, the court vacated an FCC order that determined that Fox broke the rules and sent the matter back to the agency for further consideration.

This doesn't get the networks off the hook completely, however. The agency could still reformulate its reasoning for the change in indecency standards so as to bring the shift in line with the rules for rulemaking, and there is always the possibility of an appeal to the Supreme Court. The 2nd Circuit did express doubts, however, that the FCC could ever come up with a reasoned basis for the new rule that would not run afoul of the Constitution.

The current controversy centers around several networks' airing of some objectionable language over the course of several years. Three of the complaints involved obscenities spoken during live broadcasts, and one focused on some naughty words written into the show NYPD Blue.

Specifically, the FCC order dealt with Cher's 2002 Billboard Music Awards appearance where she announced "People have been telling me I'm on the way out every year, right? So fuck 'em"; Nicole Richie's 2003 Billboard Music Awards presentation where she offered up the soulful lamentation "Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It's not so fucking simple"; several episodes of NYPD Blue containing the words "bullshit," "dick," and "dickhead"; and, finally, a live interview on CBS' The Early Show where a Survivor contestant referred to a co-contestant as a "bullshitter."

The FCC eventually found that the comment on The Early Show occurred during a legitimate news interview, and was thus shielded from a finding of indecency by First Amendment concerns. The NYPD Blue issue was dropped because the only person who complained about the show's language had viewed the show on the East Coast, where it aired after 10 pm. This placed it in the "safe harbor" time period, which meant that the network wasn't open to sanctions because of the verbiage.

That left just the two Billboard Music Awards gaffes for the FCC indecency squad to judge. In order to understand how the agency ruled on the two ladies' comments, a little history is in order:

For almost 30 years, the FCC had declined to fine broadcasters for airing "fleeting expletives" - basically, any forbidden word the use of which was isolated, not repeated and not used solely as "verbal shock treatment."

Then, in response to Bono's f-bomb at the 2003 Golden Globes, the FCC did an about-face and decided to change its restrained enforcement policy. After the Golden Globe decision, any use of the word "fuck" - whether or not it was fleeting - would constitute indecency and invite a fine. The FCC reasoned that the word had no connotation other than referring to the act of fornication, and was therefore always indecent.

Several networks filed petitions for reconsideration with the FCC after that decision came down in 2004, but the FCC never acted on them, and began enforcing the new rule as if no challenges had been entered.

In the current case, the FCC initially found that each blurting of the f-word was indecent, but declined to issue fines since the networks had broadcast the programs before the new Golden Globes rule. The networks appealed and the court sent the case back to the FCC for a reconsideration. That remand produced the current order that jettisoned the claims against The Early Show and NYPD Blue.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Driving with an Apple Watch could land you with a £100 FINE
Bad news for tech-addicted fanbois behind the wheel
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Sony says year's losses will be FOUR TIMES DEEPER than thought
Losses of more than $2 BILLION loom over troubled Japanese corp
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Why Oracle CEO Larry Ellison had to go ... Except he hasn't
Silicon Valley's veteran seadog in piratical Putin impression
Big Content Australia just blew a big hole in its credibility
AHEDA's research on average content prices did not expose methodology, so appears less than rigourous
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.