A U.S. appeals court overruled federal regulators who decided that expletives uttered on broadcast television violated decency standards, a major victory for TV networks.
The Federal Communications Commission had ruled in March 2006 that News Corp.'s Fox television network had violated decency regulations when singer Cher and actress Nicole Richie blurted out profanities during the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards' shows. However, no fines were issued.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, in a 2-1 ruling, said that the FCC's "new policy sanctioning 'fleeting expletives' is arbitrary and capricious."
The court sent the matter back to the commission for further proceedings.
Fox had challenged the FCC's decision, arguing that the government's decency standard was unclear, violated free speech protections and that the rulings had contradicted findings in past cases. Both sides presented oral arguments before the U.S. appeals court panel in December 2006.
In their written ruling, Judges Rosemary Pooler and Peter Hall said that the FCC policy on indecency standards "represents a significant departure from positions previously taken by the agency and relied on by the broadcast industry" and that the commission "has failed to articulate a reasoned basis for this change in policy."
Judge Pierre Leval issued a dissenting opinion, writing that he believed the FCC "gave a reasoned explanation for its change of standard."