Congressmen introduces bill to curb profanity in broadcasting

Content Regulation | Feature | January 8, 2004

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Congressmen introduces bill to curb profanity in broadcasting

  • Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) introduced the "Clean Airwaves Act" in December hoping to bar any use of eight expletives during TV or radio broadcasts.

Jan. 8, 2004 -- A U.S. congressman from California is looking to clean up the public airwaves, in apparent reaction to an expletive uttered by U2 lead singer Bono during the January 2003 Golden Globe Awards show.

On Dec. 8, Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) introduced the Clean Airwaves Act, which would bar eight expletives from the airwaves. The bill would amend the U.S. Code section addressing indecency.

FCC rules prohibit indecent broadcasts concerning sexual or excretory organs or activities at a time when children are likely to be in the audience. The U.S. Court of Appeals in 1989 in Action for Children's Television v. FCC allowed the agency to change its standard for enforcing prohibitions against indecency. It had previously barred any use of seven "filthy words," a standard affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a George Carlin monologue.

Ose proposes a ban on the words "shit," "piss," "fuck," "cunt," "asshole," and the phrases "cock sucker," "mother fucker" and "ass hole."

After receiving an award during last January's Golden Globe ceremony, aired live on NBC, Bono said the honor was "fucking brilliant." The Parents Television Council, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles that supports "socially responsible" programming, filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. In early October, the commission ruled that the expletive, in the context used, was not indecent.

In its ruling on the complaint, the FCC said that it would not bring an action simply because specific words, "even expletives or other four-letter words," were used.. It wrote, "[T]he performer used the word 'fucking' as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation."

According to a Dec. 16 Associated Press story, Ose was offended by the commission's decision nearly as much as he was by Bono's utterance. "C'mon, give me a break," he told the AP. "I don't think there's a parent in the country who wants to hear this stuff come out of their TV."

Ose's proposed bill, if passed, could force the FCC to look at the eight words and phrases by themselves, no matter the context, essentially banning them from the airwaves. The bill would prohibit the use of the words "with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases."

(H.R. 3687) -- LH


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