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High court to rule on TV indecency, GPS tracking
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has added a couple of high-profile constitutional challenges to its lineup of cases for next term: One looking at governmental regulation of television content and the other dealing with the authority of police to use a GPS device to track a suspect’s movements without a warrant.
The court’s action Monday agreeing to review the two cases foreshadows what could be an extraordinary year for the justices. Gay marriage, immigration and the health care overhaul all are working their way to the court and could arrive in the term that begins on the first Monday in October.
The court’s look at what broadcasters can put on the airwaves when young children may be watching television could be the most important treatment of the issue in more than 30 years.
The justices said they will review appeals court rulings that threw out the Federal Communications Commission’s rules against the isolated use of expletives as well as fines against broadcasters who showed a woman’s nude buttocks on a 2003 episode of ABC’s “NYPD Blue.”
The Obama administration objected that the appeals court stripped the FCC of its ability to police the airwaves.
The U.S. television networks argue that the policy is outdated, applying only to broadcast television and leaving unregulated the same content if transmitted on cable TV or over the Internet. “Responsible programming decisions by network and local station executives, coupled with program blocking technologies like the V-chip and proper guidance of children by parents and caregivers, are far preferable to government regulation of program content,” the National Association of Broadcasters said.
Parents Television Council president Tim Winter called on the court to uphold the FCC policy, saying that to do otherwise “would open the floodgates for graphic nudity” on television.
In a landmark 1978 decision, the court upheld the FCC’s authority to regulate both radio and television content, at least during the hours when children are likely to be watching or listening. That period includes the prime-time hours before 10 p.m.
The “NYPD Blue” episode led to fines only for stations in the Central and Mountain time zones, where the show aired at 9 p.m., a more child-friendly hour than the show’s 10 p.m. time slot in the East. The administration included a DVD of the episode with its filing.
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York noted that ABC said the scene was intended to portray the awkwardness between a child and his parent’s new romantic partner, and the difficulty of adjusting to the situation.
A second part of the FCC case involves the use of curse words on awards shows on television, which has been to the high court before.
Three years ago, the justices narrowly upheld the policy, but in a ruling that pointedly avoided dealing with First Amendment issues. Instead, the court directed the appeals court to undertake a constitutional review.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is not taking part in the case because she served on the appeals court during its consideration of some of the issues involved.
But Justice Samuel Alito, who sold his Walt Disney Co. stock last year, will participate. Disney owns ABC.
Alito recently acknowledged he should not have taken part in the “fleeting expletives” case that the court decided in 2009.
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