WASHINGTON - Broadcasters anticipating a major constitutional ruling on the government's authority to regulate what can be shown and said on the airwaves instead won only the smallest of Supreme Court victories Thursday.
The justices unanimously threw out fines and other penalties against Fox and ABC television stations that violated the Federal Communications Commission policy regulating curse words and nudity on television airwaves.
Forgoing a broader constitutional ruling, however, the court concluded only that broadcasters could not have known in advance that obscenities uttered during awards show programs on Fox stations and a brief display of nudity on an episode of ABC's NYPD Blue could give rise to penalties. ABC and 45 affiliates had been hit with proposed fines totaling nearly $1.24 million.
Broadcasters had argued that the revolution in technology that has brought the Internet, satellite television and cable has made the rules themselves obsolete. The regulations apply only to broadcast channels.
The justices said the FCC is free to revise its indecency policy, which is intended to keep the airwaves free of objectionable material during the hours when children are likely to be watching.
The wait is almost over for the Supreme Court's verdict on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The court is heading into what is looking like its final week with cases on health care, Arizona's immigration law, lying about military medals, juvenile sentencing and real estate kickbacks still to be decided.