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.