tagReviews & EssaysHypocrisy in our Free Speech

Hypocrisy in our Free Speech


21st Century Censorship (What is Obscene or Indecent...can you please tell me?), and the Hypocrisy of the FCC

Shit. Piss. Fuck. Cunt. Cocksucker. Mother-fucker. Tits. Those are the so called 7 dirty words you can't say on an on-air broadcast. Since George Carlin famously said those seven dirty words over 30 years ago, a few have been added as well. Asshole, Goddamn. Make it 9 dirty words now. Or maybe we're up to 10 now. 15? 20? Where does it start and stop exactly? Just because a word like Goddamn may be offensive to those who are religious doesn't mean it is to those who aren't. While I somewhat agree that there are some things that should not be broadcast over the public airwaves, extreme censorship is still wrong. When they start fining broadcasters for "indecent" or "obscene" materials that aired over the airwaves more than a few months ago, that's just ridiculous. Isn't there a statute of limitations? That's like saying, it wasn't illegal then, but it is now...so pay up!

This latest bout of hypocrisy began on February 1, 2004. It all started when we saw Janet Jackson's right breast for about, three tenths of a second. That's barely enough for the human mind to register, but long enough to say "Was that her breast?" Yes, it was. Not even a minute after that I received a phone call from a friend asking me if I had just seen what happened. I did, and I passed it off as a mistake. That moment single-handedly started the spiraling downfall of American broadcasting. What has happened in the past three months has seriously damaged our credibility in the worldwide media and severely damaged our 1st Amendment rights. In order to understand better, you have to see how the FCC defines what is obscene or indecent.

Title 18 United States Code, Section 1464 (18 U.S.C. § 1464) says:

Obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time. To be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test: (1) an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. See Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973). (FCC)

Can anyone explain that in English? Where does it say in the 1st amendment that obscene speech is not protected? The 1st amendment explicitly says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (U.S Constitution)

Now what exactly in that sentence makes obscene speech not protected? Clearly the wording needs to be changed. The definition of obscene speech is way too vague. Look at part (1): What defines someone as an "average" person? Do they make average pay and drive an average car and eat average food and live an average life? I don't know anybody like that. Does this average person live in New York, where they are definitely more open with using profanity in the streets or in a place like Georgia where they certainly aren't? Part (2) deals with can basically be described as pornography, whether it be visual or audio. What's wrong with sex? It's a perfectly natural thing. People have it everyday and the last time I checked it wasn't illegal to have. In fact, in every country but America sexuality is much more open and free. And finally, that brings us to prong number (3). This is where the definition is just way too vague. What is to say that Howard Stern saying whatever he wants over the air is not of some artistic value? He could be called "the artist of the airwaves". He basically started an entire "shock jock" movement in broadcasting; doesn't that give him artistic integrity? Then the FCC goes and then sets limits on what can be aired between 6 A.M and 10 P.M. Apparently what's obscene during these hours is determined by community standards. I don't know about where you are from, but my community is 11 million strong. How many people live in the United States? 260 million. 11 million is less than 5% of the total population. I know that we don't live in one large community so are they going from community to community and applying the obscenity principles there? No. They shouldn't even be doing that. They can't really go from community to community to do that, because everything these days is on networks where everyone sees the same thing at the same time. The networks aren't about to give different shows to different communities at the same time. What a waste of time and money that would be.

On April 08, 2004 the FCC levied a fine against Clear Channel Communications that was $495,000 for the syndication of the Howard Stern Radio Show. The fine is one of the largest in broadcasting history, and you would think that more people would know what it is for. Here's what the FCC had to say:

The Enforcement Bureau received a complaint alleging that Station WBGG-FM aired indecent material during the ``Howard Stern Show,'' on April 9, 2003, between approximately 7:25 and

7:45 a.m. The complainant submitted a transcript of this broadcast . The material at issue includes dialogue between cast members regarding the sexual practices of certain program cast

members and a discussion with a guest regarding ``Sphincterine,'' a purported personal hygiene product designed for use prior to sexual activity. (FCC)

Now, what really bothers me is that it took the FCC an entire year to decide if what was said was obscene, which they finally did. In a another case in which the fine was $357,000 (Opie and Anthony Radio Show) it took them 14 months to decide that the broadcast of two people having sex in a church was obscene. That's not right. Either it is obscene or it isn't. The language in determining what is or isn't obscene needs to be changed, or in the opinion of this writer, abolished. Also, while looking through all the fines that the FCC has levied over the past four years, I seem some ridiculous ones. A radio station in Pueblo, Colorado (KKMG-FM)) being fined $7,000 for the airing of Eminem's song "The Real Slim Shady" in June 2001. Another station in Madison, Wisconsin (WZEE-FM) being fined the same amount for the same thing. (FCC) Of all the stations in the United States, why only these two? What about the stations in New York, or Chicago or Los Angeles? It seems a bit hypocritical to me that the FCC would levy fines against two stations that had a complain filed against them, but not follow up and see who else was playing the same song. At the time, there were probably hundreds of stations playing that song.

While browsing the FCC web page, I came upon something very strange. Now I know that Michael Powell is the head of the FCC and since all this exploded he's been all over the news. Did you know that he has his own personal photo gallery on the FCC web page? Not on his own personal page, but the on FCC one. Now...can anyone tell me while the head of the FCC needs his own personal photo gallery on the FCC webpage? I didn't think so. What's even sad is that Michael Powell is probably the most ridiculed person in American these days. He only got the job because of his father, he doesn't have anywhere near the amount of credibility that Colin (Is it Collin or Colon?) has. What's sad is that his respectability has gone down since what is going on in Iraq. I felt that he had a good chance of being seriously considered to run for President. Not anymore. I rant here, mainly because Michael Powell is a hypocrite. Yes, I said it in writing. I want him to come after me. Now Powell says he wants to go after HBO for their language and sex. Nobody gets HBO for free; we have to pay for it to come into our houses. We have to pay a lot actually, and I want what I pay for. You can't do that stupid! You have no control over that. No, we won't fine Oprah for saying "penis" or talking about "tossing the salad" or "rainbow parties" but we will fine Howard Stern for it! Why? Because we can't fine Oprah. She an American Icon®. That's hypocritical bullshit. Who is Michael Powell to say that? His credibility as an FCC Chairman drops to even the negative numbers. Stop being such a puppet.

What we need is a FCC chairman who has the balls to tell people "You don't like what's on? Change the channel. Nobody is forcing you to watch Janet Jackson and the flash of her breast. Nobody is sitting you down and making you listen to Howard Stern or Bubba the Love Sponge. If they were, then I could see a problem. There are hundreds of ways you can spend your time." The parents say they want to protect their children. Have they been to school for the past 25 years? There are school shootings, sex education classes and profanity to the max. Have you seen a school shooting in say, New York or California? No, they aren't in the bible belt region, where most school shootings take place. Censorship is bad, but I have no problem with a ratings system that is actively enforced. Are movie ratings enforced? Barely. TV shows? You can barely notice them. Music? Kind of, but you can get anything from the internet. Video Games? Yes and no.

If Bush continues to be President, then everyone involved in broadcasting could be endangered to their right to free speech. Has anyone even noticed that during every major hostile conflict (Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan) there's been a Republican president? They all want to keep what's going on these countries on the down low. They want to censor what is being broadcast in the news. If there ever was an important election, this year would be it. As sad as it sounds, John Kerry has the broadcasting vote. There is no time like the present to have a liberal running America, and not a staunch conservative. End this obscenity and indecency crap, and deal with matters that are actually important. Like the rising gas prices, or our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop pulling the wool over our eyes. We are not sheep.

* * * * *

Works Cited

Atkinson, Claire. "Mel Karmazin Defends 'Anal Sex' Radio Broadcasts". Adage.com.
27 April 2004. Crain Communications, Inc. 28 April 2004. http://www.adage.com/news.cms?newsId=40374

Clear Channel Communications, Inc. Clear Channel Communications, Inc. 28 April 2004. http://www.clearchannel.com/Corporate/company_exec.aspx

FCC: EB – Obscene, Profane & Indecent Broadcasts. Federal Communications Commission. 28 April 2004. http://www.fcc.gov/eb/broadcast/opi.html

Boehlert, Eric. "Radio's Big Bully" Salon.com 13 March 2001 – 01 August 2001. Salon.com. 28 April 2004 http://www.salon.com/ent/clear_channel/

U.S Constitution – Bill of Rights. Legal Information Institute. 28 April 2004. http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html

Well Connected – The Center for Public Integrity. The Center for Public Integrity. 28 April 2004. http://www.openairwaves.org/telecom/analysis/default.aspx

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