Regulation of Broadcast Indecency: Background and Legal Analysis [Updated December 21, 2006] [open pdf - 204KB]
"Two prominent television events placed increased attention on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the broadcast indecency statute that it enforces. The airing of an expletive by Bono during the 2003 Golden Globe Awards, as well as the 'wardrobe malfunction' that occurred during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show, gave broadcast indecency prominence in the 108th and 109th Congresses, and resulted in the enactment of P.L.109-235 (2006), which increased the penalties for broadcast indecency by tenfold. Federal law makes it a crime to utter 'any obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication' (18 U.S.C. § 1464). Violators of this statute are subject to fines and imprisonment of up to two years, and the FCC may enforce this provision by forfeiture or revocation of a broadcaster's license. The FCC has found that, for material to be 'indecent,' it 'must describe or depict sexual or excretory organs or activities,' and 'must be patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.' The federal government's authority to regulate material that is 'indecent' but not obscene was upheld by the Supreme Court in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, which found that prohibiting such material during certain times of the day does not violate the First Amendment."
CRS Report for Congress, RL32222
U.S. Department of State, Foreign Press Center: http://www.fpc.state.gov/