No Shit

FCC censorship fight


According to the Federal Communications Commission, a single fuck or shit on a live awards show can cost a TV network millions of dollars, but the same words are acceptable in a "bona fide news interview." The accidental airing of a celebrity's spontaneous expletive is indecent, but the deliberate airing of the very same footage during a news report is not. The use of expletives is OK in a fictional World War II movie because they are "integral" to the film yet indecent in a documentary about real-life blues musicians.

Confused? Imagine how broadcasters feel when they try to figure out the FCC's policy regarding dirty words on the air. In March the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review that policy, which a federal appeals court has deemed "arbitrary and capricious."

The last time the Supreme Court addressed the FCC's regulation of broadcast indecency was in 1978, when it upheld a fine provoked by a mid-afternoon airing of a George Carlin monologue on a New York City radio station. The decision emphasized the distinction between Carlin's "verbal shock treatment," involving the deliberately provocative, repeated use of expletives, and "the isolated use of a potentially offensive word."

For the next three decades, taking its cue from the Court, the FCC let stray expletives slide. Then Bono got a little carried away at the 2003 Golden Globe Awards, where he pronounced his award for best original movie song "really, really fucking brilliant."

After initially saying Bono's expletive was not indecent because it was not really a sexual reference and in any event was "fleeting and isolated," the FCC reversed itself. It later ruled that expletive-containing comments by Cher at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards and by Nicole Richie at the 2003 Billboard Music Awards were indecent as well.

Last year, in response to a lawsuit by broadcasters, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the FCC had violated the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to "articulate a reasoned basis for its change in policy." That decision, which the Supreme Court now has agreed to review, did not definitively address the broadcasters' constitutional objections, but the 2nd Circuit was skeptical that they could be overcome.

NEXT: Next It Will Be Football Games

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  1. Hi,

    I agree with the editor the harmful effect of the article on its reader or audience should be redefined to help the readers. Free speech more often leads to obscenity. So it has to be scanned to give out in public.

    Size 28 Clothing

  2. Come on, Jacob, THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

  3. I agree with the editor the harmful effect of the article on its reader or audience should be redefined to help the readers. Free speech more often leads to obscenity. So it has to be scanned to give out in public.”


  4. LOL, thanks to Dictator Bush, Free Speech is a thing of the past!


  5. USDA

    We could close the doors on all of these ‘worse than useless’ departments tomorrow, and start living freer the next day.

  6. Warren obviously isn’t thinking of the children..

  7. Well, *supposedly* Scalia et al. have *some* affection for free speech cases. On this area of the law, more than any other, the SCOTUS has been rather more libertarian than others, perhaps because it is so cut and dry and because slippery slopes become so quickly poisonous.

    Or maybe not. Hell, just get over it.

  8. Marcvs,

    Won’t someone think of the children?

    *single tear slides down face*

  9. Can someone please go to Brazil and kick that ultimate privacy douche’s ass? Any reason readers in Brazil?

  10. John-David,


  11. Spambots can comment incoherently on the article now? Impressive.

  12. Obviously, this whole “free speech” thing has been played out. People need to be told what to do and what to think by a government run by God-fearing, morally upri–

    aw, fuck it.

  13. Nigel Watts,

    Its a brave new world, better keep up or you’ll get left behind.

  14. What is indecent is having a government agency charged with deciding for the public what is or isn’t ‘decent’. The level of bullshit in the public discourse on this subject is itself indecent. Censorship is wrong. Period. Whatever the excuse. Don’t like it? Shut it off.

  15. Since internet involves the use of broadband, this site is now under jurisdiction. oookkkkkaayyy, Metal Messiah, and John-David are hereby fined one million dollars each. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Children might have gotten onto this blog. You’ve almost certainly warped someone’s fragile little mind.

  16. Has there ever been a recorded case of a child dying as a result of hearing an obscenity?

  17. one time, when I was young, someone told me “why don’t you go fucking kill yourself?”, so I did.

    but I got better

  18. See Carlin’s 2005 performance “George Carlin: Life Is Worth Losing.” It’s morbid, paranoid and misanthropic. He stalks around headstones on a mock graveyard set, delivering grim “commentary” about his hatred of humanity. Not funny.

  19. Last Halloween, my wife and I decided to give out healthy apples instead of the normal crap that unthinking louts hand out to kids these days.

    Early in the evening, a darling young girl in an angel outfit came to the door and rang the bell. She opened her bag, and I dropped a big, bright, shiny red apple into it. She looked down into the bag and scowled. Then she said “You broke my fucking cookie”.

  20. Republican rhetoric around election time: “smaller government.”

    Republican idea at the moment: “Let’s pass yet-another law, so the FCC can’t do this censorious shit to our beloved RUSH!!”

    Republicans hate: The idea of just getting rid of the fucking FCC & spending $0 taxes, with disputes solved in the courts instead. It would interfere, after all, with their own “decency” control-freakery.

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