Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Federal Communications Commn. v. Pacifica Foundation case brief

Federal Communications Commn. v. Pacifica Foundation case brief summary
438 U.S. 726 (1978)

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed an order of petitioner Federal Communications Commission (FCC) holding that respondent radio station owner could have been the subject of administrative sanctions for broadcasting indecent language prohibited by 18 U.S.C.S. § 146. The Court granted certiorari to the FCC.

After the radio station broadcast a humorist's monologue containing indecent language, the FCC issued an order that the language was patently offensive, although not obscene.


  • The Court held that the FCC's action was constitutionally permissible. 
  • The action was not forbidden "censorship" within the meaning of 47 U.S.C.S. § 326 because that statute did not limit the FCC's authority to impose sanctions on licensees who engaged in obscene, indecent, or profane broadcasting. 
  • The monologue was indecent under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1464 because it did not conform to accepted standards of morality; prurient appeal was not an essential component of indecent language. 
  • Thus, there was no basis for disagreeing with the FCC's conclusion that indecent language was used in the broadcast. 
  • Content that was vulgar, offensive, and shocking was not entitled to absolute protection under the First Amendment.

The judgment reversing the FCC's order was reversed.

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