The Supreme Court on June 21 dismissed sanctions against two television networks that violated the Federal Communications Commission’s ban on vulgar words and nudity, but it sidestepped a more fundamental constitutional question about the government’s power to police the airwaves.
In a unanimous decision, the justices said that they did not need to rule on that overarching free-speech question. It was enough, they concluded, to find that the FCC’s 2004 crackdown on even one-time uses of profanity and brief displays of nudity did not give the networks fair notice as to what would violate indecency standards.
Although the Court ruled that the FCC’s procedures were flawed, it did not reverse course on the fundamental constitutional doctrine underpinning the regulations protecting children in the media.
“This decision thus permits further action on some of the most important issues relating to children and media today,” said Cheryl Leanza, policy director of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication, Inc. (OC, Inc.), referring to hot-topic issues such as the relationship of the media marketplace to childhood obesity, aggressive and inappropriate advertising, or the limited amounts of high-quality educational television for all children.
“We are gratified that the Supreme Court heeded the call of the Children’s Media Policy Coalition and left this critical doctrine intact,” added Leanza. “OC, Inc. encourages the Commission to use its authority in a manner that offers clarity to broadcasters and parents alike.”
OC, Inc. had filed as an amicus in this case as part of the Children’s Media Policy Coalition.
Founded in 1959, only two years after the formation of the United Church of Christ, OC, Inc. ultimately established that the airwaves belong to the public, that media corporations are stewards of the airwaves, and that all citizens have the legal right to participate in FCC proceedings. OC Inc. continues to be a leader in media reform by pushing for a more just, accessible, diverse and accountable media. It works to promote public interests in the media, especially for people of color, women and children.