July 08, 2004

FCC: F-Word May Still Be Used, But We Won't Explain When

The excellent Broadcasting and Cable reports on a recent talk by David Solomon, Chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, regarding the FCC's indecency enforcement, natch (F-Word Not Banned, Says FCC). Last March, the FCC notoriously reversed position and declared that Bono's use of the word "fucking" as in, "fucking brilliant" was not only indecent but also profane (FCC Revives Notion of the Profane). So what does the chief enforcer have to say about this?

He insisted to a Media Institute crowd Wednesday that the Bono decision did not mean the f-word was, per se, off limits, and said the bureau and commission still are taking context into account, pointing to the precedent of the news exemption for f-words in mafioso John Gotti tapes on NPR.
Of course it isn't per se off limits. If it were the Supreme Court would laugh the already silly FCC out of the courthouse, since the Supreme Court clearly requires "context" to be part of the indecent decision making process. So, when would it be permissible? The Gotti decision was over a decade ago, and the Bono decision basically said that all broadcasters could no longer rely on prior decisions.
He did not concede the point, but did recognize the criticism that the punishment of the fleeting, live, non-sexual adjectival f-word by Bono left little room for a non-actionable use of the word, at least in the entertainment realm.

But news is not a shield, either, he pointed out, citing the KRON-TV puppetry of the penis case, in which a morning news show was fined for an errant puppet. Solomon said that fine was because the on-air newspeople appeared to be encouraging the "flash."

So, if you play that Gotti tape a little too often, or maybe joke about it a little, you'll get fined. News should be serious and unentertaining, apparently. In any case, Gotti used the word "fuck" or its variations ten times in seven sentences. You know any broadcasters who would play the tape today? 'Cuz I sure don't.
Solomon, whose earlier decision that the Bono f-word was not indecent was reversed by the full commission, told a Media Institute crowd in Washington that broadcasters must start doing more to self-regulate, and not hide behind "the mantra of the First Amendment."
Translation: Self-censorship is so much easier for us. How dare you exercise your full free speech rights.

Solomon also seemed to look forward to the court challenges, which would provide welcome guidance. Wait a minute, the FCC has said that the broadcasters have all the guidance they need. If the FCC would welcome more guidance, how can it be that the broadcasters have enough guidance? Either you need more guidance or you don't. If you don't need more guidance than additional guidance is unnecessary and a waste. Seems to be a significant inconsistency here.

Finally, because of the fine boost, Solomon doesn't expect to fine the maximum routinely anymore. Yeah, right. The Congress provided new maximums so that they wouldn't be used, sure.

No mention of profane language in this article. I would really love to sit down with some people from the FCC and have them explain their reasoning about "profane" language to me.

Posted by Ernest at 11:44 PM
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Ernest, I think in the blogosphere, you can safely call it "the fuck word" or if you have strong sensibilities, "the Dick Cheney word". Calling it "the fuck word" is definitely not as indecent as just saying "f---", which I won't say here out of respect for everyone. Banning the phrase "the fuck word" would be as bad, in my mind, as banning the word "contagious". No DRM required.

Posted by Brad Hutchings on July 9, 2004 12:48 AM | Permalink to Comment

Huh? I haven't banned anything. I am a frequent user of the term "fuck" when discussing the FCC. Try it as a search term.

For example, here is a post from last year:
Fucking-A: The Mainstreaming of an Expletive

Posted by Ernest Miller on July 9, 2004 12:54 AM | Permalink to Comment

"Haha" (did I really need to say that??)

Posted by Brad Hutchings on July 9, 2004 08:04 PM | Permalink to Comment

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