The meaning of indecency on television will be reviewed by the US Supreme Court in a case that concerns the showing of nude buttocks and the use of swear words during live broadcasts.
The highest US Court will hear the case in the fall and announce a decision by June 2012.
Several questions of indecency that have arisen from a variety of televised events were combined into a single case after an appellate court ruled that the definition of indecency adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was "unconstitutionally vague."
In one case, the singer Cher and Nicole Richie used profanity during an evening awards show broadcast live on Fox. In another, an episode of the ABC TV series "NYPD Blue" exposed a nude woman from the rear as she entered a shower.
Each time, the FCC imposed large fines on the stations. The fines were challenged in court and ultimately decided in favor of the television stations on appeal.
The FCC won a previous indecency battle that originally began in a crusade for tighter regulations after Janet Jackson exposed her breast during a live Super Bowl broadcast in 2004.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the FCC in 2009 when it decided that the agency had the authority to forbid the live broadcast of profanity, but did not rule on whether the FCC policy against "fleeting expletives" is valid under the US Constitution's first amendment.
That question was sent back to the court, which struck down the FCC policy.
The court used that ruling to strike down a separate case of the use of the indecency regulation against displays on TV of adult female nudity, if done in a suggestive way.
The current indecency definition states that "the material at issue "must fall within the subject matter scope of [the] indecency definition -- that is, the material must describe or depict sexual or excretory organs or activities," and "the broadcast must be patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium."