The latest ruling by the United States Supreme Court says it’s okay to curse or show nudity on network TV…if it happened by accident early last decade. Thursday the nation’s highest court ruled unanimously to throw out fines the Federal Communications Commission levied against broadcast companies for two specific incidents of cursing on awards shows and an instance of brief nudity on ABC’s NYPD Blue in 2002 and 2003.

The ruling, however, did not extend to any larger discussion of what the FCC means when they call things objectionable and is being viewed as unfortunately inconsequential. Read more below.

Under an FCC rule amended about 10 years ago, stations could be fined for profanity during award shows that were being broadcast live or any instance of accidental nudity. In three specific cases, (nudity on NYPD Blue, and Cher and Nicole Richie cursing on award shows in 2002 and 2003) that’s exactly what happened. The stations fought the fines, saying the rules were changed without enough warning and though they lost the battle in court several times, the Supreme Court finally ruled in their favor.

If you want to read more about the ins and outs of the case, Reuters and USA Today do a great job, among other places.

While this might seem like a step in the right direction towards make your regular broadcast programming more akin to something on HBO or AMC, that simply isn’t the case. And, in fact, this decision won’t even protect networks against nudity or cursing on award shows today. Now days networks are much more well versed in the rules of the FCC and have put in significant delays to make sure nothing objectionable airs at certain hours. They were given a pass in this case because the timing worked in their favor.

Certain experts believe, however, that the Supreme Court dropped the ball here and could have made a more widespread, important ruling whether or not the FCC has the right to say what’s decent and what’s not when it comes to free speech. Said one person to USA Today:

The Supreme Court decided to punt on the opportunity to issue a broad ruling on the constitutionality of the FCC indecency policy. The issue will be raised again as broadcasters will continue to try to grapple with the FCC’s vague and inconsistent enforcement regime.

So Fox and ABC got away with a few curses and nudity on TV 10 years ago but can’t do the same with their current shows. Do you think this ruling shows that the Supreme Court could make a more significant ruling about decency though? Will this ruling, in anyway, get the ball rolling or is it merely a small win for the broadcasters?

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