Fed. Commc’n Comm’n v. Fox Television Stations, Inc.

In the 1970s the FCC began enforcing 18 U.S.C. 1464, which bans broadcast of "any obscene, indecent, or profane language." This case concerns two isolated utterances of obscene words during live broadcasts aired by Fox and an ABC television show during which the nude buttocks of an adult female character were shown for approximately seven seconds and the side of her breast for a moment. Under 2001 Guidelines, a key consideration was whether the material dwelled on or repeated at length the offending description or depiction. After these incidents, the FCC issued its Golden Globes Order, declaring that fleeting expletives could be actionable. It concluded that the broadcasts violated this standard. On remand, the Second Circuit found the policy unconstitutionally vague and invalid. The Supreme Court held that, because the FCC failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts, its standards were vague as applied to the broadcasts. Although the FCC declined to impose a forfeiture on Fox and said that it would not consider the broadcasts in renewing licenses or in other contexts, it has statutory power to take prior offenses into account when setting a penalty, 47 U.S.C. 503(b)(2)(E), and due process protection against vague regulations "does not leave [regulated parties] ... at the mercy of noblesse oblige." The challenged orders could also have an adverse impact on Fox’s reputation with audiences and advertisers. The Court declined to address the constitutionality of the current indecency policy. View "Fed. Commc'n Comm'n v. Fox Television Stations, Inc." on Justia Law