Does the F-bomb belong on network TV?

An appeals court has struck down the FCC ban on "fleeting curses" in live broadcasts. Is this a win for freedom of speech or vulgarity?

Janet Jackson
(Image credit: Getty)

Yesterday, a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission's indecency policy on the grounds that a ban on so-called "fleeting expletives" — obscenities uttered during live network broadcasts — was vague and inhibited free speech. The FCC began enforcing the stricter standards in 2004 after celebrities' salty language on awards shows prompted complaints. The new ruling, which may yet face an appeal in the Supreme Court, is being called a victory for First Amendment rights and the networks, which have faced steep fines for violating the ban, but what will it mean for audiences and their favorite shows? (Watch an overview of the revised standards)

This lets network TV compete fairly with cable: "The broadcast networks are surely going to use this opportunity to get more creative with language and sexual situations," says Joel Keller at TV Squad, and it's about time. "Not every network show needs to have realistic, gritty dialogue, but at least this ruling gives the networks the opportunity to present the kind of programming their cable counterparts [which aren't governed by the FCC] have been able to present for more than a decade without fear of massive and random fines."

"Will networks push the envelope after FCC indecency rules are thrown out?"

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Sure, but what about "family television"? It may be a win for the networks, but it's a loss for parents, with little legal merit, says Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, as quoted in the Financial Times. "Let’s be clear about what has happened here today: A three-judge panel in New York once again has authorized the broadcast networks' unbridled use of the 'f-word' at any time of the day....For parents and families around the country, this ruling is nothing less than a slap in their face."

"Expletives ruling tests Obama's free speech stance"

Parents shouldn't be relying on the FCC, anyway: As the ruling demonstrated, it's futile for the FCC to try and enforce subjective standards of decency, says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. "Besides, the FCC can't shield children from inappropriate programs — it has no authority over cable TV channels, and it can't stop kids from using DVRs or the Internet to watch late-night programming in the middle of the day." Luckily, parents now have better tools for blocking programs. The FCC should focus on promoting those methods.

"The FCC's decency dilemma"

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