Page last updated at 16:05 GMT, Tuesday, 28 April 2009 17:05 UK

US TV swearing policy 'correct'

Bono at the Golden Globes in 2003
The policy followed swearing by Bono at the 2003 Golden Globes

The US government's policy of fining broadcasters over the use of even a single swear word on live TV is justified, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The "fleeting expletives" policy, introduced in 2004, was on hold after a legal challenge by TV company Fox.

The Federal Communications Commission introduced the rule after Bono swore at the 2003 Golden Globes. It previously had a "one free expletive" rule.

Justice Antonin Scalia said the new policy had been "entirely rational".

Fox's legal challenge stemmed from a 2006 FCC ruling that the network had violated decency during its broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards at which celebrities had sworn.

Even when used as an expletive, the F-word's power to insult and offend derives from its sexual meaning
Justice Antonin Scalia

The network, together with ABC, NBC and CBS, legally challenged the FCC policy by arguing that the decency standard was unclear and undermined free speech protections.

The policy was put on hold after a New York appeals court ruled in favour of Fox, saying the FCC had not adequately explained the change and that it was arbitrary and vague.

'Rational'

But, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted by five to four, overturning the ruling stating the policy was "neither arbitrary nor capricious".

"The agency's reasons for expanding its enforcement activity, moreover, were entirely rational," Justice Scalia said.

The FCC had changed its policy on fleeting expletives that denote "sexual or excretory activities" as part of a crackdown on indecency on TV.

"Even when used as an expletive, the F-word's power to insult and offend derives from its sexual meaning," Justice Scalia added.

The Supreme Court justices said the reinstated policy may now go before a federal appeals court to judge whether it breached free speech laws.



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