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Jun 05 2007

What the F … CC?


Someone tell Dr. Johnny Fever that he’s now free to say “booger” on the air.

Well, not exactly. But in a ruling overturning a new regulation that would cite radio and TV stations even if they accidentally broadcast an obscenity, a federal appeals court has questioned whether the Friendly Candy Company has any authority to regulate content.

In the past, the FCC usually didn’t fine broadcasters if profanity was inadvertently aired during coverage of a news event. But under the Bush administration, the FCC has taken an increasingly hard line toward obscenity, and when U2’s Bono used the phrase “f—— brilliant” during NBC’s live coverage of the 2003 Golden Globes award ceremony, it ruled the network was liable. Fines have also escalated; under the Republican Congress in 2006, the maximum penalty for broadcast obscenity went from $32,500 to $325,000.

Led by Fox, the “Big Four” television networks had appealed that ruling and others, and in a 2-to-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York said it was “skeptical” that the FCC’s ban on “fleeting expletives” was constitutional.

“We further find that the FCC has failed to articulate a reasoned basis for this change in policy,” the judges wrote in their majority opinion, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and saying that it was “divorced from reality.” Even President Bush has been heard using profanity, they noted.

The dissenting judge called the change “relatively modest” and said the FCC gave a “sensible, although not necessarily compelling, reason” for it.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin called the ruling “a bunch of f—–g bull—t,” and immediately fined himself $325,000. (Just kidding.)

Martin said that the court is “divorced from reality,” and said that if the ruling stands, “Hollywood will be able to say anything they want, whenever they want.” (News release, PDF)

More from The New York Times, Reuters and The Associated Press.