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Fleeting expletives

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Fleeting expletives are sexual or excretory references that are broadcast unintentionally because the expletive was not expected to be said.
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Fleeting expletives occur when broadcasters are not aware that certain language is about to occur and they are therefore uable to prevent broadcast of such language. According the the FCC's Enforcement Policy Regarding Broadcast Indecency (i.e. FCC Indecency Rule) "...sexual or excretory references have been made once or have been passing or fleeting in nature, this characteristic has tended to weigh against a finding of indecency."[1]  The FFC would not normally require sanctions due to the fact that the broadcasts contain only a fleeting and isolated utterance within a live, spontaneous programming. There are exceptions to graphic and explicit references to sexual activities that would not be tolerated, despite the fleeting reference.[2]


Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FCC[3]

This recent case came about due to the inconsistent enforcement of the FCC Indecency Policy. The FCC had placed a ban on broadcasts with even “fleeting expletives.”

The courts found that the "FCC’s policy violates the First Amendment because it is unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here."


  1. http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Enforcement/Orders/2001/fcc01090.pdf
  2. http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Enforcement/Orders/2001/fcc01090.pdf
  3. http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/3c69eb90-e36b-4ff8-9658-53d6cd36c060/1/doc/06-1760-ag_opn2.pdf#xml=http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/3c69eb90-e36b-4ff8-9658-53d6cd36c060/1/hilite/

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