NEW YORK – A federal appeals court Thursday granted the Federal Communications Commission two more months to decide whether "NYPD Blue" and three other television programs violated rules governing the broadcast of indecent and profane material.
The 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued a two-page order in the case brought by broadcasters upset at the FCC for findings that did not carry any fines. The agency said its rulings were meant to give broadcasters a sense of what will violate new rules.
The FCC had asked for the extra time over the objections of some broadcasters who are seeking to challenge new commission rules exposing broadcasters to what they say are large fines for even accidental broadcasts of isolated and fleeting expletives.
FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said the FCC was pleased with the decision, saying it ensures the commission will have the chance to hear all of the broadcasters' arguments. A lawyer for the broadcasters did not immediately comment on the ruling.
The FCC said last week it wanted the additional time to hear the broadcasters explain why they were upset by the decency findings.
The agency said it acted faster than usual and did not propose fines for any of the programs, concluding only that the programs "apparently" violated the statutory and regulatory prohibitions on indecency and profanity.
ABC Television Network, NBC Universal Inc., CBS Broadcasting Inc., Fox and their network affiliate associations challenged a March 15 FCC order resolving indecency complaints based on television programs that aired between February 2002 and 2004. ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co., NBC by General Electric Co., CBS by CBS Corp. and Fox by News Corp.
In a statement, CBS said it was "gratified that the court has taken the first step in recognizing the serious First Amendment issues raised by the FCC's new enforcement policies."
Martin Franks, executive vice president of CBS Corp., said last week that the network could see "overwhelming evidence of the chill facing broadcasters" because of the FCC in the hesitancy of some CBS affiliates to air a Sept. 11 documentary at its scheduled time on Sunday because it contains some profanities.
The broadcasters said the enforcement of federal indecency rules is inconsistently applied since the FCC decided in 2004 that virtually any use of certain expletives would be considered profane and indecent. Millions of dollars in fines have been levied based on those rules.
The appeals challenged the FCC's finding that profane language was used on the CBS program "The Early Show" in 2004, incidents involving Cher and Nicole Richie on the "Billboard Music Awards" shows broadcast by Fox in 2002 and 2003 and various episodes of the ABC show "NYPD Blue" airing in 2003.
The FCC said it did not issue fines in those cases because the incidents occurred before it changed its rules in 2004 after a Golden Globes broadcast early that year in which profanity was uttered by Bono of the band U2.
The FCC and others began looking at obscenity rules affecting broadcasters in 2004 after one of Janet Jackson's breasts was exposed on a Super Bowl halftime show broadcast.