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Will The Supreme Court Let Parents Down?

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On January 10 2012 the federal Supreme Court began hearings on a case that has the potential to be one of the most important judgments on broadcast decency in decades. On the table is the FCC’s power to regulate the content broadcast television and radio—specifically the use of profane language, sexual content and extreme violence.

This latest battle for First Amendment protection of four letter words on public airwaves began when Fox broadcast the Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003 during which celebrities blurted out profanities. In a separate incident ABC Television was also fined by the FCC for airing female nudity during an episode of NYPD Blue. The networks contested the sanctions and the case has been bouncing back and forth in lower courts until it made its way to the Supreme Court level.

During the hearings on January 10, court justices heard arguments from lawyers representing both Fox and ABC networks and a lawyer representing the FCC and public petitioners supporting the FCC continuing it’s regulation of broadcast content.

For the networks, their dream appears to be complete abolition of FCC content regulations. When Justice Alito asked Carter Phillips, the lawyer for Fox, if he simply wanted the justices to overrule a defining decision of the court over 30 years ago that set precedent for today’s broadcast indecency laws, Mr. Phillips quickly and simply responded: “Yes, Justice Alito.”

Hopefully, and judging the comments made by the justices during the oral arguments, Justice Alito’s offer of a wild and free broadcast landscape was merely to ascertain what Fox’s ideal outcome would be. But for the thousands of parents who have already made their concerns known to the FCC, this would be far from ideal.

You can listen to the complete oral argument or read the transcript.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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