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Supreme Court Rules on Indecency Case

The Supreme Court issued a ruling this week that released the FOX and ABC networks from penalties for three violations of FCC indecency rules.  However, the Court was careful not to weaken the FCC’s role as an enforcer of decency on the airwaves. 

In a decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court ruled that the networks hadn’t received proper notice of the FCC rules and thus couldn’t be penalized.  However, Justice Kennedy specifically noted, “because the Court resolves these cases on fair notice grounds under the Due Process Clause, it need not address the First Amendment implications of the Commission’s indecency policy…. this opinion leaves the Commission free to modify its current indecency policy in light of its determination of the public interest and applicable legal requirements…”

Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, responded to the ruling:

This highlights once again the need for the FCC to conduct its business through a more transparent and orderly process, allowing for better input and decision-making. How much longer can we allow bad process to produce bad results? The time is now for reform, such as those included in the FCC Reform Act. In the meantime, today’s ruling reinforces the responsibility of broadcasters to represent their communities. Most of them know and do the right thing, and we urge them to continue to listen to the public and uphold appropriate community standards that protect families and children.

Full Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) added, “I would remind executives in New York and Hollywood that they should act responsibly when it comes to the entertainment they are sending, via the public's airwaves, into family rooms across the country." 

Earlier this year NRB filed an Amicus Curiae brief with the Supreme Court supporting the FCC's prohibition on broadcast indecency during children's viewing hours.  NRB President and CEO Frank Wright declared, “NRB has been a staunch defender of the First Amendment…. At the same time, we recognize that great responsibilities come with such a valuable freedom…. We don’t believe that the values of both free speech and fundamental decency are inconsistent.”

  • Find this Supreme Court ruling on broadcast indecency.
  • See NRB’s Amicus Curiae brief on behalf of the FCC’s indecency rules.

 By Aaron Mercer, Vice President Government Relations