Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Don't Read His Lips – You Might Be Offended

When a U2 song won a Golden Globe award in 2003, Bono, on a live broadcast, blurted out, "This is really, really f-ing brilliant!" The Federal Communications Commission declared his remark "shocking and gratuitous," a threat to "the well-being of the nation's children," because it employed "one of the most vulgar, graphic and explicit" words "in the English language."

It amazes me that the FCC is so hung up on one word, used spontaneously in that case, while so much explicit sexuality is rife on the screen.

Reversing a decades-old policy in which isolated or fleeting expletives generally went unpunished, the FCC started a crackdown on vulgar language in 2004. Under the Bono rule, the commission found programs violated indecency rules, including the ABC detective series "NYPD Blue," the CBS News "Early Show" and a PBS documentary on blues musicians. The rule applies only to broadcasts – neither the Internet, cable nor satellite channels are subject to FCC content regulation.

A, this is supposed to make sense: only broadcast television is censored; cable television isn't. Ridiculous.

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To justify the Bono rule, the commissioners found that the F-word describes "sexual or excretory" functions and is "patently offensive" to "contemporary community standards." Courts should defer to the FCC, the administration's brief says, because the commissioners "studied" the "connotations of language" before determining that the word "invariably invokes a coarse sexual image." The FCC says, however, that it conducted no formal study beyond the opinion it published announcing the expletive rule.

Which is it? The Administration says the commissioners "studied" the "connotations of language"and the FCC says they didn't.

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