A federal appellate court Monday struck down the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's policy of fining broadcasters that inadvertently air profanity.
The 2-1 opinion by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York said the FCC's rules about a "fleeting expletive," or blurted profanity, were "arbitrary and capricious" and might violate the First Amendment privilege of free speech.
The commission tightened its policy in 2004, deeming any utterance of an expletive implying a sexual or excretory act a violation of its indecency rules.
But "in recent times even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced sexual or excretory organs or activities," the court ruled.
"We find that the FCC's new policy regarding 'fleeting expletives' fails to provide a reasoned analysis justifying its departure from the agency's established practice," Judge Rosemary Pooler, joined by Judge Peter Hall, wrote for the court.
The case involved unscripted expletives singer Cher and "The Simple Life" star Nicole Richie used on the "Billboard Music Awards" show in 2002 and 2003, respectively.
The FCC said it would review the court's decision.