Breaking Down The Appeals Court’s Ruling Against FCC’s Indecency Rules

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TVBig news in the entertainment world today: a three-judge appeals court has thrown out recent indecency rules put forth by the Federal Communications Commission, the government body that oversees the media. The judges' ruling, while marking a huge victory for Hollywood, is actually pretty difficult to understand.

The most important thing to know about the ruling is that the appellate court said the FCC's rules, which punished networks for things like the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” and f-bombs slipped out during award show acceptance speeches, were in violation of the First Amendment — or free speech. The court admonished the FCC for its previous rulings against the TV networks and called its current policies “impermissibly vague.” In other words, vague rules are not good.

The panel of judges also addressed sex in the media, calling it an “important and universal theme in art and science.” Here's one difficult passage from the ruling:

“The absence of reliable guidance in the FCC’s standards chills a vast amount of protected speech dealing with some of the most important and universal themes in art and science. Sex and the magnetic power of sexual attraction are surely among the most predominant themes in the study of humanity … By prohibiting all ‘patentently offensive’ references to sex, sexual organs, and excretion without giving adequate guidance … the FCC effectively chills speech because broadcasters have no way of know what the FCC will find offensive.”

To translate: the FCC's current rules are vague and therefore wrongfully prevent TV networks from showing potentially offensive things like sex, because they are worried that they'll face penalties like fines. Instead, the FCC's guidelines should be totally clear, so that artists can create shows without the fear of repercussions. For example: “one butt cheek can be shown, but not the crack.”

But, this fight is probably not over. Experts say this ruling will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, as the war over decency in the media rages on. Do you think networks should be penalized for things like f-bombs in acceptance speeches? What is appropriate for TV?