First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
 
Congressman proposes banning 8 crude words from airwaves

By The Associated Press
12.16.03

WASHINGTON — A California lawmaker wants to ban eight vulgar words from the airwaves after rock star Bono used one of them on live TV and federal regulators didn't take action.

Rep. Doug Ose, R-Sacramento, said he was amazed when the Federal Communications Commission refused to sanction television stations that showed the U2 frontman using an expletive at the Golden Globe Awards last January.

The FCC said Bono's comment did not meet its definition of indecency or obscenity because it did not describe a sexual function.

"C'mon, give me a break," Ose said. "I don't think there's a parent in the country who wants to hear this stuff come out of their TV."

He introduced a bill last week that would punish television and radio broadcasters if they aired the eight words and phrases. The language of the bill, the Clean Airwaves Act, is far saltier than Bono's comment.

"I regret you gotta be specific, but apparently there's somebody out at the FCC who needs that kind of direction," said Ose, who has two young children.

FCC spokesman David Fiske declined yesterday to comment.

The October decision on Bono's remark, issued by the FCC's enforcement bureau, is being reviewed by the five FCC commissioners after an appeal by the Parents Television Council, a Los Angeles-based watchdog group.

In a letter to the council last month, FCC Chairman Michael Powell wrote, "The commission is required to acknowledge that even repulsive speech is accorded protection under the First Amendment, and thus, must act carefully when considering possible action against allegedly indecent programming. ... Personally, I find use of the 'F word' on programming accessible to children reprehensible."

A First Amendment lawyer who represents radio stations said he agreed with Ose that the FCC does not implement its indecency standards effectively. But he said it would be silly to give broadcasters a list of words that can't be on the air.

The lawyer, Robert Corn-Revere, said such an approach would impede legitimate newscasts, like National Public Radio's airing of profanity-laced wiretaps of mob boss John Gotti. The FCC refused to sanction NPR after complaints from a listener who heard one of those broadcasts in 1989.

"There's no conceivable way that an approach like that could survive constitutional review," Corn-Revere said. "This is one of the reasons why radios and televisions have on-off switches."

During the Golden Globes, Bono said, "This is really, really f------ brilliant."

"I don't think you can have the FCC saying f------'s OK as long as it's not used as a verb. There's something wrong with that," said Lara Mahaney, the parent group's director of corporate and entertainment affairs.

Bono did not immediately return a message left with U2's publicist.


Related

FCC chairman calls for bigger fines for broadcast indecency

Michael Powell says penalties should be 10 times higher as current fines are 'just the cost of doing business to a lot of producers.' 01.15.04

FCC to broadcasters: F-word out of bounds
Agency overrules its staff, declares that expletive uttered by rock star Bono on NBC last year was both indecent and profane. 03.19.04

'Free' and other 4-letter words
By Ken Paulson Public profanity can violate our sensibilities, but generally doesn’t violate the law. 11.17.02

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print


Last system update: Saturday, January 24, 2009 | 15:56:05
 SEARCH  MORE
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
Video/RSS/podcasts
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment
reports

First Reports
Supreme Court
Experts
Columnists
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Glossary
Freedom Sings™
Events
First Amendment
Schools

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment
Library

Lesson plans
freedomforum.org
Newseum
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links