The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the FCC should have authority over indecency in broadcasting, as the highest court in the land reached a unanimous decision on the long-running case. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his statement that he agreed the FCC's policies and enforcement are "vague," but the Court allowed the Commission's policies and powers to proceed as they have in the past. However, the fines and penalties against Fox and ABC were tossed out by the court ruling.
In the 23 page decision, Kennedy wrote that the FCC is free to amend its indecency policy in the public's interest, and that in the future, courts will be able to review any changes. The Court noted that the FCC "failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts" of its indecency polities, hence the rejection of the fines against the networks. However, the "narrow" decision by the Supreme Court notably did not rule whether the FCC's policy is constitutional.
The FCC case stemmed from multiple, well-documented TV incidents from last decade on Fox and ABC, on the Billboard Music Awards and NYPD Blue.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement, "We are reviewing today’s decision, which appears to be narrowly limited to procedural issues related to actions taken a number of years ago. Consistent with vital First Amendment principles, the FCC will carry out Congress’s directive to protect young TV viewers."
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell added in his own statement that "As a matter of good governance, it is now time for the FCC to get back to work so that we can process the backlog of pending indecency complaints – which currently stands at just under 1.5 million involving about 9,700 TV broadcasts. Some of these complaints date back to 2003. We owe it to the American public and the broadcast licensees involved to carry out our statutory duties with all deliberate speed."
Commissioner Ajit Pai agreed, saying that the Court's ruling "highlights the need for the Commission to make its policy clear. I look forward to working with my colleagues to provide the clarity that both parents and broadcasters deserve. At this point, the best way for us to proceed is to get to work resolving the multitude of indecency complaints that have piled up during this litigation."
The NAB has released a statement in response to the Supreme Court's ruling. NAB EVP of Communications Dennis Wharton says, "NAB has long believed that responsible industry self-regulation is preferable to government regulation in areas of programming content. We don't believe that broadcast programming will change as a result of today's decision, given the expectation from viewers, listeners and advertisers that our programming will be less explicit than pay-media platform providers. As broadcasters, we will continue to offer programming reflective of the diverse communities we serve, along with program blocking technologies like the V-chip that empower parents in monitoring media consumption habits of children."