May 06, 2007


A federal court has ruled that "fleeting expletives" should not be judged as indecent speech. This ruling includes comments made by Bono during NBC's broadcast of the "Golden Globes" in 2003, in which he used the phrase: "fucking brilliant."

The U.S. Court of Appeals threw out the Federal Communications Commission's profanity rulings against Fox, NBC and others, saying they were "arbitrary" and "capricious."

But the opinion was a narrow one, and did not address the bigger picture of the FCC's indecency-enforcement plans. The court sent the decision back to the commission for better justification.

The case stemmed from a 2006 change in the way the FCC viewed profanity; the ruling said that a number of shows aired between February 2002 to March 2005 were indecent and subject to financial penalties: Fox's "2002 Billboard Music Awards," "2003 Billboard Music Awards," ABC's "NYPD Blue," and CBS' "The Early Show."

According to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which made the ruling, Cher stated during the 2002 Billboard Awards show: "People have been telling me I'm on the way out every year, right? So fuck 'em." Then during the 2003 show, Nicole Richie said: "Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It's not so fucking simple."

ABC's "NYPD Blue," in various episodes, had detective Andy Sipowicz and other characters use certain expletives. During a CBS "Early Show," a "Survivor: Vanuatu" contestant referred to another contestant as a "bullshitter."

Fox, joined by NBC and CBS, had challenged the ruling on various grounds. Fox's argument is that the FCC's policy is "incurably arbitrary" and vague, and that its targeting of "occasional expletives" is unconstitutional.

The National Association of Broadcasters Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said in a statement: "This is a timely opinion as public policymakers weigh the merits of further program content restrictions. NAB has long believed that responsible industry self-regulation is preferable to government regulation in areas of programming content."

by Wayne Friedman
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