The United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has determined that the FCC’s ban on even one small “patently offensive” expletive and other profanity on TV and radio violates the First Amendment. They stated that the current policy is “unconstitutionally vague” and creates a “chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.” Chilling, indeed! We barely know what to say anymore. Thank goodness we’re not on f’in TV.
Per the ruling,
“By prohibiting all ‘patently offensive” references to sex, sexual organs, and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what ‘patently offensive’ means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive,” Judge Pooler wrote.
The ruling came with regard to the case of Fox v. FCC, in which the FCC had to defend their 2004 policy increasing enforcement efforts against profanity dropped by Cher in 2002 and Nicole Richie in 2003, both at the Billboard Music Awards. And, of course, at the 2003 Golden Globes, in which Bono said, “This is really, really fucking brilliant. Really, really, great,” while accepting an award, and the FCC freaked the fuck out, seeking $8 million in damages. A 2006 FCC order also sought reparations from bad words in episodes of NYPD Blue (in which, confusingly, “bullshit” was deemed offensive but “dick” and “dickhead” were not) and even The Early Show.
This all means the FCC needs to appeal — and/or go back to the drawing board to come up with a more specific provision, as they say, that functions “in light of our commitment to protect children, empower parents, and uphold the First Amendment.”
In the meantime, TV and radio broadcasting companies won’t have to worry about getting smacked with fines for their little “indecencies.” Oh, and also, they won’t be afraid to air things like Peabody Award-winning 9/11 documentaries in which firefighters might say some bad words now and again, because, after all, they kind of deserve that scant release in the midst of fighting furiously to save lives and such.