FCC indecency rule called 'unconstitutionally vague'

A federal appeals court has stuck down the Federal Communications Commission's policy on indecent content, saying it "violates the First Amendment because it is unconstitutionally vague."

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 32-page ruling Tuesday. The ruling says the FCC policy creates a "chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here."

As an example in its ruling of how the FCC policy has "chilled protected speech," the judicial panel pointed to several CBS affiliates which chose not to air the award-winning "9/11" documentary in 2006 because the stations didn't want to risk that the expletives in the documentary's audio footage would be found indecent.

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps decried the ruling, saying the court was more focused on the policy's effect on broadcasters then "the ability of American parents to safeguard the interests of their children." He called on the commission to "clarify and strengthen" the indecency policy.

Up until 2003, the FCC had issued fines for scripted expletives but usually had been more lenient with profanity during live shows. Then U2 singer Bono swore while accepting an award during a program on NBC. The network wasn't fined, but the FCC warned that unscripted profanity could lead to fines. NBC, Fox Television and other broadcasters sued in 2006 saying the policy and not equally enforced. In 2009, the Supreme Court sent the case to the Second Circuit Court to decide if the policy was constitutional.

"We have always felt that the government's position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional," Fox Networks said in a statement to CNN.