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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Supreme Court Backs FCC's Ban On "Fleeting Expletives"

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision on April 28th that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had acted properly when it modified its policy to hold even fleeting words actionable for indecency violations. The court said the FCC's policy on "fleeting expletives" was neither "arbitrary" nor "capricious."

The case got rolling when, in 2006, the FCC declared that Fox had violated decency standards during two separate broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards. In 2002 Cher, picking up her BMA for best doesn't-matter-what, prattled on merrily about how people had been saying for years she was so over and what she had to say to those people was "[expletive] 'em." The next year, Nicole Richie at the same trophy show, while presenting a trophy to explained to millions of viewers at home that it was not so [expletive] easy to get [poo] out of a Prada purse.

In between these two Billboard verbal assaults, Bono, picking up a trophy at the Golden Globe Awards on NBC, pronounced his win "[expletive] brilliant." Initially, the FCC turned down the "Bono" complaint at the enforcement-bureau level, declaring it not warranting a fine since it was neither indecent nor obscene because Bono had not said the word to describe a sexual act, but just intense happiness. But about a year later, in 2004, after Americans saw Janet Jackson's right breast,the full commission realized its enforcement bureau was not tough enough and announced that fleeting expletives were fair game in the United States of America.

"Even when used as an expletive, the F-word's power to insult and offend derives from its sexual meaning," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, thus endorsing the FCC on expanding its enforcement to include "fleeting expletives." (The Wash Post, 4/29/09)
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