The Supreme Court has a rare opportunity to set the “future indecency standard for television and radio,” said David Savage in the Los Angeles Times online. On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments on the right of the Federal Communications Commission to fine broadcasters for fleeting utterances of the F-word and other vulgarities on live TV. Will broadcasters “remain under strict federal regulation because a mass audience that includes children may be watching? Or will a looser standard prevail?”
It’s hard to say, said Joan Biskupic in USA Today online, because regulators have been inconsistent with their rulings in the past. “When Cher invoked a four-letter expletive during her acceptance speech at a televised awards show, federal regulators deemed it indecent.” But in the “TV broadcast of the movie Saving Private Ryan, expletives were allowed because, regulators said, they contributed to the work’s power and realism.”
Legally, the “crux of the case” is whether the F-word “necessarily refers to sexual or excretory activities or organs,” said Barbara Wallraff in The Atlantic online. When U2’s Bono said winning a Golden Globe was “really f---ing brilliant,” that clearly wasn’t sexual. But Fox deserves to be in trouble for Bono’s salty talk, because networks should shun words that are crude and offensive.
“Broadcasters have an obligation to keep their programming clean,” said The Washington Post in an editorial, and they generally have—without the FCC’s rule. Since “self-discipline and market forces” are effective in keeping prime time clean, and technology is making it easier, “there is no need for the stiffer and seemingly arbitrary regulation” the FCC is trying to defend.