Tuned In

FCC Wins, Somewhat, on Decency Fines

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In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Federal Communications Commission in its lawsuit with Fox network over the FCC’s ability to fine broadcasters over the use of “fleeting” expletives. 

I haven’t reviewed the decision firsthand—nor am I a lawyer—but the analysis suggests that the decision, while a win for the FCC, is a limited one. The Court rejected the ruling by a Federal appeals court that the FCC had failed to adequately explain its change from an earlier enforcement policy. However, the Court made a point of not addressing the First Amendment issues related to the FCC’s authority to fine fleeting swear words—e.g., the blurted f-words in live awards shows that spurred the case—and invited lower courts to send it cases that were more targeted at the First Amendment issues. 

Upshot: the larger issue of what the First Amendment does and does not allow the FCC to regulate is still up in the air, and we have not heard the ____ing last of these cases.