Supreme Court takes up TV profanity case

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Words that cannot be said on television are not often uttered at the Supreme Court, at least not by high-priced lawyers and the justices themselves.

That may change today when the court takes up a dispute between the broadcast networks and the Federal Communications Commission over celebrities’ one-time uses of profanity on live television during hours when children are likely to be watching.

The court’s first major broadcast indecency case in 30 years tests whether the government can ban these "fleeting expletives."


For many years, the FCC did not ordinarily enforce prohibitions against indecency unless there were repeated occurrences. But in 2004, the commission changed the rules after Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie used familiar but profane words during awards programs in 2002 and 2003.

A federal appeals court in New York threw out the ban and the government appealed to the Supreme Court.

The FCC has authority to regulate speech on broadcast radio and television stations, but not the Internet, cable and satellite TV.

C-SPAN asked the court to release a recording of the arguments for airing shortly after their conclusion. The court grants such requests from time to time, but turned down C-SPAN with no explanation.

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