The Supreme Court, which by now should have a different, less grand, title - the Abjectly Partizan and Squeamish On Important Stuff But Bold When It Comes To Taking Your Rights Away Court, perhaps? - has punted. Again.
Here's what happened. :-) A couple of television broadcasts (remember television? It was a plastic "wood" box in the corner of the room that emitted a tinny sound and a dire picture? Yeah? No? Oh... Never mind, it's a historical thing. Ask your Gran about it) had blasphemous moments on them. So the people who regulate such things - the Federal Communications Commission - fined the television stations lots and lots and lots of money because they broadcast things they couldn't actually control and in one case didn't happen in America, anyway. They did this to ensure that Mr and Mrs Heartland wouldn't have to hear such indecent words and their kids were protected from this thing called "real life". Mr and Mrs Heartland are avid Tea Party supporters and don't want the government interfering in anything they do. Except when it comes to things like what is broadcast on the television, what their kids can buy, what their niece can do after she's made a dire mistake and those two very nice men down the street. And while they appreciate that Mr Mohammed works very long hours in his gas station and store, they're not sure they want him to have somewhere to worship. At least not in their neighborhood. Or county. Or state. But aside of all that, they don't want the government interfering with their television viewing. Except when it comes to sex. Guns and bad guys dying in stylized ways, sure. But two people making out on a park bench? Or a bedroom? They're not going to have any that, thank you very much!
Anyway, this has been going for decades. Congress figured people needed the government to protect them from depictions of life that might be unsavory. Or for allowing horrible four letter words that can't be uttered within range of children or Supreme Court Justice's. So they gave the Federal Communications Commission the power to fine broadcasters for showing such things. And that, a few years ago, caused a bit of a furore.
You see, a pop star called Bono - you might have hear of him? - uttered the word "fucking" on live television! And the FCC, which at the time was run by an overly-sensitive, quite moralizing Chairman Powell. Who fined the television company for allowing Bono's words to traverse the ionosphere and enter homes where - gasp! - children might be watching Bono, because he's a big pop star and all. He fined them a lot of money. And worked hard to keep the government out of everyone's lives. Especially if they were big corporations that donated to, oh, I don't know, the biggest lobbying firm for television and cable television corporations. Of which he happened to become the president of! How strange is that?
I can't even mention Janet Jackson - a lesser pop star, but a popular figure nonetheless - had an apparent "wardrobe malfunction" during a Super Bowl. People were outraged! Here were grown men beating the living daylights out of each other, wearing codpieces that simply defied nature, and a girl shows a natural part of her body! By mistake! The FCC had a conniption! And fined the broadcasting company.
After being fined, not sued, just fined, the television companies did the only decent thing and American corporation can do. They sued. And, after a few years, the case reached the august ears of the Supreme Court Justices. 8 of them. One recused herself. They, in their infinite wisdom decided... Well, nothing. They vacated the fines and punted the central question: can the FCC censor speech on television?
The net result of all of this is, of course, the infamous 5 second delay. For everything on the television. A skater does twirl - you get it five seconds later. You listen to the baseball game, you get it in real time. You turn on the television - it's delayed. By 5 seconds. Watch the moon landing, and it's delayed- by 5 seconds. Watch Mr Obama utter a single word and Fox News censors him... Oh, sorry. Different discussion. :-) (It's really irritating with the baseball; especially on some games that Michael Kay isn't announcing. I'd like to listen John Sterling and Susan Waldron (on CBS 880 AM), but with the picture five seconds behind their words? It's irritating.) And now we have the Supreme Court muttering, "Okay, no fine! But come back to us in a decade or so and we'll tell you if we like the rules you came up with... Have a nice day, now!"