The case will decide whether the government can ban these one-time expletives.
For years, the FCC didn’t enforce prohibitions against indecency unless there were repeated occurrences. But in 2004, the commission changed the rules after Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie used profane words during award ceremonies in 2002 and 2003, reported the Associated Press.
A federal appeals court in New York ruled against the ban, and the government appealed to the Supreme Court.
The FCC has authority to regulate speech on broadcast radio and television stations, but not the Internet, cable and satellite TV.
The consequences of the high court’s decision could be far-reaching, with broadcasters contending that the FCC policy has hindered their free-speech rights and caused widespread self-censorship, according to USA Today.
Fox lawyer Carter Phillips said the prospect of fines under the policy could discourage networks from airing live entertainment or sports events.
Government attorneys, however, say the FCC should be able to squelch the foul language on TV and that FCC punishments factor in the context of the potentially offensive remarks.
The Supreme Court last considered an anti-decency policy for broadcast companies in 1978, when it upheld a fine against a radio station that aired comedian George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” monologue in the afternoon, reported USA Today.
In that case, the court endorsed the FCC’s authority to sanction indecent speech during programs airing between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children would most likely be listening.
Tuesday’s case is FCC v. Fox Television Stations, 07-582.