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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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June 14, 2005

Podcasting and Profanity

Posted by Ernest Miller

Last Sunday, on Corante's Podcasting Jeff De Cagna asked, what the role of profanity in podcasting was (Profanity in Podcasting: What is its Role?).

But there is an even more fundamental inquiry I'd like to pose here: what is the role of profanity in podcasting? Do we need to curse to demonstrate our fidelity to free speech? What is the point at which our defiant acts against the FCC will cease to be purposeful, and we will just become garbage mouths in the eyes (and ears) of our listeners? I know I'm probably messing with the bull here, so I'll be prepared! [emphasis in original]
The answer is simple, really. It plays whatever role the speaker desires. If that role doesn't mesh with the role the audience cares for, the audience will stop listening.

Use profanity, don't use profanity. It's a judgement call.

The real question is whether some censorship regime is necessary.

Last week on the Yahoo podcasters group, there was an extremely passionate discussion (complete with name calling) of profanity in podcasting and how it can be screened by listeners who prefer to avoid it themselves or want to keep it away from their kids. At the moment, of course, there isn't a way to screen for profanity short of listening to the podcasts. Some group members advocated a voluntary ratings system, while others recoiled at the suggestion. A key question is who gets to decide what is or isn't profane and by what cultural standard, an extremely relevant matter given podcasting's global reach. [link in original]
But really, is this necessary? The internet has a number of rating schemes, they're mostly useless. I've never noticed any blogs that are rated, why should podcasts? Depending on the audience, most blogs simply exercise a judgement call. Some refuse to publish vulgarities, others do. Sometimes the sites warn their readers, sometimes they don't. Seems to work just fine.

Of course, I'm sure the topic will come up again and again and again ...

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Broadcatching/Podcasting | Freedom of Expression | Rating and Filtering


1. Kevin Kenny on June 14, 2005 08:50 PM writes...

"Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer."

-- S. L. Clemens, 1835--1910

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2. caleb de floriduh on June 14, 2005 11:58 PM writes...

I think there is an unexamined assumption underlying the comment thread sparked by De Cagna's piece-- that certain words in-and-of-themselves are morally bad or can somehow cause damage. Maybe this is true; maybe certain strings of letters that trigger thoughts are magic and have bad ju-ju. Or maybe the use of what we call profane words is somehow unethical. Maybe these words can damage young people. Or old people.
I would like to see a study or even hear testimony showing that the seven words you can't say on radio have hurt people. I am not holding my breath, however. Nicole Simon is correct when she implies that certain Americans need to grow up and quit trying to inflict their prejudices on the rest of the world. Discussions like this just serve as diversions from examination of the behavior Americans engage in that actually does hurt people.

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