Nightly News   |  January 10, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court debates curse words

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the FCC is inconsistent, but both Justices John Roberts and Antonin Scalia said the public needs channels kept free from indecency. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to a fight that will affect all of us. what are the limits of decency when it comes to the programs coming into millions of american homes via television and radio? are the rules antiquated? how far can the government go to keep cursing and nudity off the screen? especially on a free over-the-air broadcast network like the one you're watching via your local nbc station right now. this fight took center stage today at the u.s. supreme court . our justice correspondent pete williams was there.

>> reporter: during unscripted moments on live broadcasts, it can happen.pops a four-letter word. that was really, really [ no audio ] brilliant.

>> reporter: there's been a crackdown for swear words and brief images of nudity in scripted dramas. they began to crack down on indecency after george carlin 's rant on the seven words you can't say. the government says the rules are justified because broadcast television reaches so many homes and is easily accessed by children.

>> they can dump whatever they want into the homes of families. i don't think that's what people want.

>> reporter: but with the explosion of new channels, including cable and the internet, the networks, including nbc, say it no locker make makes any sense of broadcasters when viewers treat it all the same.

>> for anybody under the age of 30 don't know any difference. 97% of people have access to either satellite or cable television from where they're hitting, it's just a number.

>> reporter: and some on the court today seemed to agree. justice ginsberg said the sec is -- fcc is inconsistent. but justice roberts and scalia says the public needs a few channels kept free from indecen indecency. the court appears likely to allow the government to continue to monitor the network bs, but may be less clear about what's out of