Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said he read the new decision as a "green light" for the FCC to rule against broadcasters in the many pending complaints of indecent material that aired after the FCC explained its new policy.
"Once again the Supreme Court has ruled against the networks in their yearslong campaign to obliterate broadcast decency standards," Winter said.
The material at issue in Thursday's decision included the isolated use of expletives as well as fines against broadcasters who showed a woman's nude buttocks on a 2003 episode of "NYPD Blue."
In December 2002, singer Cher used the phrase "F--- 'em" during the Billboard Music Awards show on the Fox television network. A month later, U2 lead singer Bono uttered the phrase "f------ brilliant" during NBC's broadcast of the Golden Globes awards show. During the December 2003 Billboard awards show on Fox, reality show star Nicole Richie said, "Have you ever tried to get cow s--- out of a Prada purse? It's not so f------simple."
But the challenge went beyond just the penalties for the use of fleeting expletives.
The broadcasters wanted the court to free them from all regulation of content around the clock. The court's 1978 Pacifica decision upheld the FCC's reprimand of a New York radio station for airing a George Carlin monologue containing a 12-minute string of expletives in the middle of the afternoon.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a brief opinion that she would have overturned the Pacifica ruling, which she called wrong even when it was decided. Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not take part in the current case because she was involved in an earlier version while sitting as an appeals court judge in New York.
The case is FCC v. Fox, 10-1293.
AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson in New York contributed to this report.
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