Thursday, March 30, 2006

The FCC Censors Again

A couple of days ago, the FCC again reared it ugly head in defense of American Values, Baseball, and Apple Pie. Okay, really their just trying to protect the most sheltered of our citizenry from having to hear "shit." That's right, the FCC just ruled that the word "shit," and all variations of it, is "presumptively profane." For those of you not skilled in legalese, allow me to translate: barring extraordinary circumstances, using it on the air will get a fine.

Now you all know I hate the nannyism of our current government, and believe that it should not be censoring our television/radio/whatever. I'd add more, but over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis has stated things much more eloquently than I could, issuing an impassioned plea in defense of bullshit:

By declaring them profane, the FCC rules these words are “certain of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.” Nuisance, in this case, does not mean a dog barking; it means that the community finds this utterance universally disturbing, utterly unacceptable, and even intolerable. The FCC commissioners say that they “reserve that distinction for the most offensive words in the English language.”


But bullshit is political speech. It is our single most precious means of expressing displeasure with the political and the powerful.

Without the word bullshit, we are left with far less satisfactory means of debate. Now don’t feed me the mothers’ bromide about curse words indicating a limited vocabulary. Bullshit is the most expressive word we have in this context.


So now imagine a protestor at a televised rally against the war railing that “this war is humbug!” Doesn’t cut it. If, instead, she said that “Bush’s war is bullshit” and that were broadcast across the country, every station that carried it and the speaker herself could be fined per utterance, even into bankruptcy. If, fearing this, she censored herself, that is evidence of the chill the FCC has imposed on free political speech. If, because of that chill, a station decided to time-delay the news — a journalistically and constitutionally offensive but pragmatic necessity of the age — it could dump her words: “Bush’s war is ‘bleep.’ ” But unquestionably, that detracts from the power of her statement and that is done only because the FCC threatens fines, presumptively, for the use of the word.

Thus, the FCC chills and censors political speech and warns that it will penalize and fine Americans for political speech. And that, I believe, is a violation of our civil rights and a violation of our First Amendment protections. Gotcha.


I am no lawyer and don’t play one on TV, but I believe that the FCC has now violated my civil right to speak truth to power any time I am on TV or radio. They went too far when they banned not just shit but bullshit and banned it presumptively. Even Commissioner Adelstein acknowleges on On the Media that if the FCC “oversteps in these cases and the court knocks us down… it would actually take a Constitutional amendment, amending the First Amendment, to get the FCC authority back.” That sounds like an opportunity to me.

So I believe there is cause for action against the FCC. I would like to see the newsmakers who want to call bullshit, and the journalists who ought to call bullshit, and the broadcasters who think that stopping them out of fear is bullshit gang up to take on the FCC and the archaic and unconstitutional law that makes them think they can and do what they have done.

It is time to stand up in defense of bullshit.


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