The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that federal regulators have the authority to clamp down on broadcast TV networks that air isolated cases of profanity, known as “fleeting expletives.”
The 5-4 vote was a victory for Bush-era officials who pushed fines and sanctions when racy images and language reached the airwaves.
Controversial words have been aired in scripted and unscripted instances on all the major over-the-air networks in the past six years — dating back to when the Federal Communications Commission began considering a stronger, no-tolerance policy.
“It suffices the new policy is permissible under the statute, there are good reasons for it, and the agency believes it to be better,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the conservative majority.
The high court, however, refused to decide whether the commission’s policy violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. It ruled only on the agency’s enforcement power. The justices ordered the free-speech aspect to be reviewed again by a federal appeals court.