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Supreme Court Throws Out FCC Fines Against Fox, ABC

By an 8-0 vote, the Supreme Court today threw out fines the Federal Communications Commission filed against Fox and ABC.

The court did not address whether the FCC rules violated anyone's First Amendment right to free speech. Instead, the justices ruled that the FCC "failed to give Fox or ABC fair notice prior to the broadcasts in question that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found actionably indecent."

The justices added that their ruling "leaves the Commission free to modify its current indecency policy in light of its determination of the public interest."

The Associated Press sums up the news this way:

"The justices declined on Thursday to issue a broad ruling on the constitutionality of the FCC indecency policy. Instead, the court concluded only that broadcasters could not have known in advance that obscenities uttered during awards show programs and a brief display of nudity on an episode of ABC television's NYPD Blue could give rise to sanctions."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not take part in the ruling.

Correction at 5:18 p.m. ET. An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the Supreme Court had struck down FCC rules that govern indecency. The Supreme Court did not go that far in its ruling. Instead it decided only to throw out the fines assessed against Fox and ABC.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.