Washington, July 14 (IANS) A US court has struck down a government policy on indecency on live television and radio, saying it is a violation of the constitution and the law allowing free speech.
The ruling Tuesday was a major victory for television networks, which jointly sued the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), after the Bush administration cracked down on foul language on broadcast television and radio.
The case was triggered by unscripted expletives uttered by Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie on award shows and singer Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during a performance in the 2004 Super Bowl, which was shown on live television.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals did not have the power to strike down the 1978 Supreme Court ruling on the FCC's right to censor the airwaves for objectionable content.
But it reversed the stance taken by the commission that even a slip of the tongue on live broadcast was a violation subject to fines for the stations that aired it, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The court said the policy on fleeting expletives was "unconstitutionally vague". It also said the agency had allowed the airing of expletives in movie broadcasts but not in mini series.
Broadcasters must, however, choose between not airing or censoring controversial programmes and risking massive fines or possibly even loss of their licenses, judge Rosemary S. Pooler said.
Fox Broadcasting Co. was the lead plaintiff in the case. But the network's attorney said the ruling "would not lead to a flood of indecent content" because children would also be watching or listening to the programmes.
The biggest impact, however, would be on live programming, such as award shows that prompted the case.
It will relieve networks from expending enormous resources trying to bleep out unexpected language on live broadcasts, the attorney said.
But the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group advocating for tougher laws on indecency, said that networks have been continually pushing edgier shows.
"What this ruling is saying is that networks are free to no longer have a mute button and that's unfortunate," Timothy Winter, the council president, said.
The FCC is reviewing the court's decision "in light of the commitment to protect children and empower parents", its chairman Julius Genachowski said.