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High court to rule on FCC indecency policy

  Law Center  -   POSTED: 2011/06/27 17:18

The Supreme Court will take up the First Amendment fight over what broadcasters can put on the airwaves when young children may be watching television.

The justices said Monday they will review appeals court rulings that threw out the Federal Communications Commission's rules against the isolated use of expletives as well as fines against broadcasters who showed a woman's nude buttocks on a 2003 episode of ABC's "NYPD Blue."

The Obama administration objected that the appeals court stripped the FCC of its ability to police the airwaves.

The U.S. television networks argue that the policy is outdated, applying only to broadcast television and leaving unregulated the same content if transmitted on cable TV or over the Internet.

In a landmark 1978 decision, the court upheld the FCC's authority to regulate both radio and television content, at least during the hours when children are likely to be watching or listening. That period includes the prime-time hours before 10 p.m.

The "NYPD Blue" episode led to fines only for stations in the Central and Mountain time zones, where the show aired at 9 p.m., a more child-friendly hour than the show's 10 p.m. time slot in the East.

In the "NYPD Blue" episode, actress Charlotte Ross played a police detective who had recently moved in with another detective. In the scene at issue, Ross disrobes as she prepares to shower. After her buttocks and the side of one of her breasts are briefly shown, the camera pans down and reveals her nude buttocks while she faces the shower.

Then the other detective's young son enters the bathroom and sees the naked woman. Embarrassment ensues as the child retreats from the room.

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