Originally published: January 10, 2012
Last updated: January 10, 2012 - 9:40pm
In colorful give and take, the Supreme Court debated whether policing curse words and nudity on broadcast television makes sense in the cable era, one justice suggesting the policy is fast becoming moot as broadcast TV heads the way of "vinyl records and 8-track tapes."
The case involves programing that is available to all viewers free over the air — even though many now receive it through paid cable connections — during hours when children are likely to be watching. Some justices said they were troubled by inconsistent standards that allowed certain words and displays in some contexts but not in others. One example frequently cited by the networks was the Federal Communications Commission's decision not to punish ABC for airing "Saving Private Ryan," with its strong language, while objecting to the same words when uttered by celebrities on live awards shows. Justice Elena Kagan said the FCC policy was, "Nobody can use dirty words or nudity except Steven Spielberg," director of the World War II movie. Other justices seemed more open to maintaining the current rules because they allow parents to put their children in front of the television without having to worry they will be bombarded by vulgarity.