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C-SPAN Saves Judges' 'F-Word' Colloquies For Posterity

There was more swearing on C-SPAN last week than you would hear in a "losers" interview on American Idol, though in C-SPAN's case without the editing for language.
After seeking and getting permission from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to televise the oral rearguments in Fox vs. Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 13, the cable public-affairs network didn't carry them live but tried to make up for that with multiple plays online, on cable and on radio, all unexpurgated.
One First Amendment attorney pondered whether it would have been a better move, in terms of a signal to the court about the importance of live televised coverage, for C-SPAN to have aired it live, but C-SPAN Networks vice president Peter Kiley said cost, logistics and other coverage obligations precluded a repeat of its live coverage of the December 2006 arguments in the case.
The case involves the use of the words "fuck" and "shit" by Cher and Nicole Richie during Fox's live airing of the Billboard Awards broadcasts in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Those slips of the tongue have been through the legal mill all the way to the Supreme Court and back to the Second Circuit, whose decision could tee up reconsideration of the FCC's fleeting profanity and nudity enforcement, if not the entire indecency enforcement regime.
With all that at stake, and language at the heart of the case, C-SPAN aired it as it was argued, with judges appearing to have some fun with terms like "poop," "dickhead" and "bullshitter," and trying to find the distinctions between those and the words the FCC found actionable, which two out of three judges chose to use rather than substitute with "s-word" and "f-word."
C-SPAN streamed the coverage as soon as it could after the ending of the oral argument, according to Kiley, which meant rolling it online raw - in both senses of the term - at about 6 p.m., or a little over an hour and a half after arguments ended.
It made it available online in an on-demand version - one that could be fast-forwarded, paused and rewound - at about 7:45 p.m., then on C-SPAN Radio (90.1 FM in D.C.) and on XM Radio (ch. 132). That was followed by an airing on C-SPAN II at 9 p.m. and a planned airing on C-SPAN over the weekend on America & the Courts.
While swearing on C-SPAN Radio would itself be subject to FCC indecency regs, the FCC's own lawyer said during argument that an airing of the proceedings would not run afoul of the regulations, pointing to the higher bar for news. Kiley says he received no complaints about that broadcast.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.