Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Supreme Court Weighs In On TV Profanity, Nudity

The Supreme Court seemed reluctant yesterday to end the government’s historic policing of the broadcast airwaves and to strike down the “indecency” rules that guide primetime TV shows. Broadcasters use the public airwaves, and the “government can insist on a certain modicum of decency,” said Justice Antonin Scalia during l arguments on the constitutionality of a ban on four-letter words and nudity. “All we are asking for is for a few channels” where parents can be confident their children will not hear profanity or see sex scenes, said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. The broadcast industry is urging the justices to strike down or sharply limit the government’s authority to police the airwaves. The FCC launched a crackdown on indecency in the last decade. Several TV networks were hit with heavy fines. Fox was fined for allowing celebrities, including Cher and U2’s Bono, to utter four-letter words during live awards programs. ABC was fined for showing a brief nude scene in an episode of “NYPD Blue.” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said he would not like to see a time when “celebrities and want-to-be celebrities” had a free speech right to utter profanities on television and radio. Justice Elena Kagan agreed with the broadcasters that the rules on indecency seem arbitrary. “It seems no one can use dirty words, except Steven Spielberg,” she commented. The networks complain the FCC allowed profanity in such movies as “Saving Private Ryan,” and full-frontal nudity in “Schindler’s List” when they aired on broadcast TV, but fined stations for other allegedly “indecent” material.