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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Accepts F-Word Penalty Case

Posted Mar 17, 2008 10:12 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the Federal Communications Commission can penalize broadcasters that air so-called fleeting expletives—the unscripted use of the F-word by celebrities or other guests appearing on the air.

The court granted cert today, SCOTUSblog reports.

At issue is an FCC policy adopted in March 2004 that bans "isolated or fleeting” use of the word during daytime and evening broadcasts.

The New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had issued an injunction against the policy, ruling that the F-word isn't indecent enough to trigger penalties when inadvertently used.

Two celebrity awards cases provide an example of broadcasters’ failure to bleep out the word. When Bono received a 2003 Golden Globes award for original song, he said, “This is really, really f---ing brilliant." Cher expressed herself in a similar manner when receiving a Billboard Music Award, saying she had proved her critics wrong. "So f--- 'em. I still have a job, and they don't," she said.

The Billboard awards show is contesting an FCC determination that Cher's comments violated its decency standards, according to the petition for certiorari (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog). The FCC also cited the show for a comment by Nicole Richie, star of The Simple Life, a reality show that chronicles Richie and Paris Hilton doing dirty or menial jobs while expending as little effort as possible.

“Why do they even call it 'The Simple Life?' ” Richie asked. “Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f---ing simple.”

The Bono case is the subject of a separate appeal, the Associated Press reports.

The case is FCC v. Fox Television Stations.

Updated at 10:35 a.m. to add information in the cert petition.

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