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Government Regulation Of Radio: Free Speech

2137 words - 9 pages

In 1978 a radio station owned by Pacifica FoundationBroadcasting out of New York City was doing a program on contemporaryattitudes toward the use of language. This broadcast occurred on amid-afternoon weekday. Immediately before the broadcast the stationannounced a disclaimer telling listeners that the program wouldinclude "sensitive language which might be regarded as offensive tosome."(Gunther, 1991) As a part of the program the station decided toair a 12 minute monologue called "Filthy Words" by comedian GeorgeCarlin. The introduction of Carlin's "routine" consisted of, accordingto Carlin, "words you couldn't say on the public air waves."(Carlin,1977) The introduction to Carlin's monologue listed those words andrepeated them in a variety of colloquialisms:I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cusswords and the words that you can't say, that you're not supposed tosay all the time. I was thinking one night about the words youcouldn't say on the public, ah, airwaves, um, the ones you definitelywouldn't say, ever. Bastard you can say, and hell and damn so I haveto figure out which ones you couldn't and ever and it came down toseven but the list is open to amendment, and infact, has been changed,uh, by now. The original seven words were shit, piss, fuck, cunt,cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the ones that will curveyour spine, grow hair on your hands and maybe, even bring us, God helpus, peace without honor, and a bourbon. (Carlin, 1977)A man driving with his young son heard this broadcast and reported itto the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. This broadcast ofCarlin's "Filthy Words" monologue caused one of the greatest and mostcontroversial cases in the history of broadcasting. The case of theFCC v. Pacifica Foundation. The outcome of this case has had a lastingeffect on what we hear on the radio.This landmark case gave the FCC the "power to regulate radiobroadcasts that are indecent but not obscene." (Gunther, 1991) Whatdoes that mean, exactly? According to the government it means that theFCC can only regulate broadcasts. They can not censor broadcasts, thatis determine what is offensive in the matters of speech. Before thiscase occurred there were certain laws already in place that prohibitedobscenity over radio. One of these laws was the "law of nuisance".This law "generally speaks to channeling behavior more than actuallyprohibiting it."(Simones, 1995) The law in essence meant that certainwords depicting a sexual nature were limited to certain times of theday when children would not likely be exposed. Broadcasters weretrusted to regulate themselves and what they broadcast over theairwaves. There were no specific laws or surveillance by regulatorygroups to assure that indecent and obscene material would not bebroadcast. Therefore, when the case of the FCC vs. Pacifica made itsway to the Supreme Court it was a dangerous decision for the SupremeCourt to make. Could the government regulate the freedom...

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