Fleeting expletive

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A fleeting expletive is a non-scripted verbal profanity or obscenity expressed and broadcast during a live television broadcast or radio broadcast. The term appears primarily in discussions of United States broadcasting law.

Notable examples[edit]

In chronological order:

U.S. Supreme Court case[edit]

On March 17, 2008, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear, in September 2008, a case on whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is allowed to regulate the use of fleeting expletives on television broadcasts.[15][16][17][18] The parties in the case are the Fox Broadcasting Company (supported by other television networks including ABC, CBS, and NBC) and the FCC.[15][16][17][18] A federal appeals court had ruled in the favor of the networks; the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the FCC's appeal.[15][16][17][18]

In a ruling issued April 28, 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fleeting expletive rule.[19] The court reversed a lower court ruling in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York which found in favor of Fox Television that the FCC had not properly followed procedures in creating the rule. In the 5–4 ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia, "the court did not definitively settle the First Amendment implications of allowing a federal agency to censor broadcasts."[20] Instead the court suggested the First Amendment issue should be raised in a Federal Appeals Court.

U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals[edit]

In a ruling announced July 13, 2010, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC indecency policy on fleeting expletives. Calling it "unconstitutionally vague", the unanimous three-judge panel found the policy could infringe upon the constitutionally protected First Amendment freedom of speech. According to the panel, the policy "created a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here", in part due to a lack of guidance on what content is considered offensive.[21]

Fox released a statement stating, "We have always felt that the government's position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional," and, "While we will continue to strive to eliminate expletives from live broadcasts, the inherent challenges broadcasters face with live television, coupled with the human element required for monitoring, must allow for the unfortunate isolated instances where inappropriate language slips through."[22]

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski indicated the commission will be "reviewing the court's decision in light of our commitment to protect children, empower parents, and uphold the First Amendment."[22]

U.S. Supreme Court ruling[edit]

In June 2012, the Supreme Court rescinded several fines issued by the FCC regarding indecent content, including the Fox case stemming from the 2002 Billboard Music Awards. The court ruled that the FCC's change in enforcement policy to target fleeting instances of profanities and nudity on television was too vague, thus violating their rights to due process. The court did not address the policies themselves.[23][24]

Canadian Broadcast Standards Council opinion[edit]

In cases of live microphones capturing profanities used by players during a football game, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) adopted the opinion that under the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, "given the goal of 'ensuring a 'safe haven' for audiences uncomfortable with the use of coarse or offensive language' some efforts need to be made to reconcile the potential for adult content", including viewer advisories.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cher nailed for F-word indecency » Cherworld.com - Cher Photos, Music, Tour & Tickets". Cherworld.com. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  2. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (September 27, 2009). "Newcomer Makes a Slip". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-28. The utterance came in a sketch, which began about 12:42 a.m. on Sunday, in which Ms. Slate played the hard-living host of 'Biker Chick Chat' who interviews similarly tough-talking women.
  3. ^ "Biden Drops the F-Bomb?". Talking Points Memo. 2010-03-23. Retrieved 2010-07-13.
  4. ^ 11/19/11 12:11pm 11/19/11 12:11pm. "'"Ah Fuck It": Lee Corso Strikes Again', Deadspin". Deadspin.com. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  5. ^ ""Corso picks Cougars with F-Bomb, then Apologizes", ''Houston Chronicle'' blog". Blog.chron.com. 2011-11-19. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  6. ^ '"Ah Fuck It": Lee Corso Strikes Again', Deadspin
  7. ^ "Corso picks Cougars with F-Bomb, then Apologizes" Image capturing co-hosts' reaction, Houston Chronicle blog
  8. ^ http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=7254423 "Lee Corso Apologizes", ESPN Video
  9. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Eu_OY3Lh3M
  10. ^ "Potty-mouth ref gives Dolphins-Colts crowd an earful". National Football League. 2012-11-04. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  11. ^ "NFL fines referee for swearing on open mic". National Football League. 2012-11-16. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  12. ^ https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/20/red-sox-ceremony-david-ortiz-boston_n_3123316.html
  13. ^ https://twitter.com/FCC/status/325714412143013888
  14. ^ http://www.thewire.com/entertainment/2013/07/there-were-25-fcc-complaints-over-big-papis-boston-rallying-cuss/66852/
  15. ^ a b c "US Court to Rule on TV Expletives". BBC News. 2008-03-17. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  16. ^ a b c Mears, Bill (2008-03-17). "High Court to Review Penalties for TV Expletives". CNN. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  17. ^ a b c Richey, Warren (2008-03-18). "FCC's Obscenity Rule to Get Supreme Court's Ear". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  18. ^ a b c Savage, David G. (2008-03-18). "Supreme Court to Rule on Broadcast Indecency". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
  19. ^ Bravin, Jess (2009-04-28). "Court Upholds FCC 'Fleeting Expletive' Rule". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
  20. ^ The FCC Doesn't Need to Be by Peter Suderman, Reason
  21. ^ FCC Indecency Rules Struck Down by Julianne Pepitone, CNN Money
  22. ^ a b F.C.C. Indecency Policy Rejected on Appeal by Edward Wyatt, The New York Times
  23. ^ Liptak, Adam. "Supreme Court Rejects F.C.C. Fines for Indecency". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  24. ^ "Supreme Court cops out, again, on "fleeting expletives"". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  25. ^ "TSN 4 re CFL on TSN (Hamilton at Ottawa) · Canadian Broadcast Standards Council". Retrieved 2019-07-02.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]