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The material at issue in Thursday’s decision includes the isolated use of expletives as well as fines against broadcasters who showed a woman’s nude buttocks on a 2003 episode of the show “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.

The broadcasters argued that the revolution in technology that has brought the Internet, satellite television and cable makes even the old rules obsolete. The regulations only apply to broadcast channels.

Viewers have so many options, unlike the handful of channels they had available in the 1960s and 1970s, when the court last weighed in on indecency on the airwaves. In many cases, viewers don’t even know when they are switching between the older broadcast channels and cable.

Still, the regulated broadcast channels provide what the government has called a safe haven of milder programming, and those channels remain dominant, even in the Internet age, the administration said.

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 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.

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AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson in New York contributed to this report.