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11-07-08, 12:59 AM #1
High Conservative Court Rules in Favor of Banning the "F-word" and "S-word" on Television and Radio Broadcasts
Reporting from Washington -- For the first time in 30 years, the Supreme Court took up the issue of indecency on television and radio broadcasts Tuesday, and its leading conservatives made clear they would like to uphold an official crackdown on the use of expletives during daytime and early evening hours.
U.S. Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre said the strict regulation of broadcast TV preserved it as a "safety zone" for families with children, particularly in an era of unrestrained free-speech rules on the Internet and on cable and satellite TV. "Broadcast TV is the one place where Americans can turn on the TV at 8 o'clock and . . . not expected to be bombarded with indecent language," he said.
He was defending a 4-year-old policy of the Federal Communication Commission to impose heavy fines on broadcasters who put on the air even a single expletive. He referred to the banned language as "the F-word" and "the S-word."
"The F-word is one of the most graphic, explicit and vulgar words in the English language for sexual activity," he said. Broadcasters can be fined more than $325,000 for a single utterance of the F-word, even if it is blurted out by a guest on a live program.
Last year, the TV networks won a ruling from the U.S. appeals court in New York that blocked the FCC policy from being enforced on the grounds it was arbitrary and possibly a 1st Amendment violation.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia dominated Tuesday's argument and strongly supported the FCC.
Roberts, who has two young children, referred to the use of the F-word by rock singer Bono at the Golden Globe Awards and Cher at the Billboard Music Awards. "Here is an awards show. Here is a celebrity. I want to listen to what they are going to say because I listen to their music," the chief justice said, portraying himself as the parent with "impressionable children" in the audience. "And he comes out with that," he said, referring to an expletive.
Scalia said he understood that foul words would be heard at a football or baseball game. "You don't have to have them presented as something that is normal in polite company, which is what happens when it comes out in television shows," he told a lawyer for the broadcast networks.
Scalia blamed television for "coarsening" public discourse. "I am not persuaded by the argument that people are more accustomed to hearing these words than they were in the past," he added.
Still, the outcome was hard to forecast because several members of the court, including Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Anthony M. Kennedy, said little or nothing during the oral argument.
Representing the Fox TV network, Washington lawyer Carter G. Phillips urged the court to think twice before allowing the FCC policy to go into effect. "At the end of the day, you are regulating the content of the speech," he said.
The FCC has not explained its abrupt shift in the policy, he said, and it has been inconsistent in applying it. He also said broadcasters would be wary of airing live sports programs if an overheard expletive could result in a huge fine.
Despite earlier comments that he would be explicit, Phillips did not use the disputed words in the court on Tuesday.
In contrast to cable companies, traditional over-the-air broadcasters remain subject to regulation because they use the public airways.In their legal briefs, the broadcasters urged the court to rethink this doctrine.
But during Tuesday's argument, only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested the court delve into the 1st Amendment issues that underlay this dispute.
It is "the big elephant in the room," she said.
One bright spot for the broadcasters was Justice John Paul Stevens. He wrote a 1978 decision upholding the FCC's indecency restrictions, but he said Tuesday that he was not convinced that every use of the forbidden words was offensive. Cher, for example, said on the award show that she had outlasted her critics. "So, F . . . 'em," she said.
What if a "particular remark was really hilarious, very funny? Would that cause the FCC to think twice about imposing a fine?" he asked Garre.
The solicitor general was unswayed. When "celebrities use particularly graphic, vulgar, explicit, indecent language as part of the comedic routine," he said, there is "potentially greater harmful impact on children."
Later, when Garre said the S-word must be banned because it refers to excretion, Stevens probed further. "Do you think the use of the word 'dung' would be indecent?" he asked. Probably not, Garre replied, because it "wouldn't be patently offensive under community standards for broadcasting."
The court could rule narrowly by focusing only on whether the FCC's change in policy is arbitrary. Or it could delve into the 1st Amendment standard for the broadcasting industry.
Fox TV took the lead in challenging the FCC because the network had broadcast several of the award programs.
Savage is a Times staff writer.
11-07-08, 05:15 AM #2
I'd like to hear from some parents as to where you draw the line for your kids hearing swear words. Reason I ask is there are a few netcasts (podcasts, serialized stories, etc) I listen to and would recommend except for the the occasional swear word.
11-07-08, 06:12 AM #3
When my kids were growing-up, I made it a point to set an example by not swearing in their presence. I don't swear much to begin with, so it was no problem. Even now, my "kids", 20 and 25 years old, don't swear in front of my wife or myself. I have to admit that there were times when they heard things on TV that weren't acceptable by our terms, but they knew what was OK and what wasn't. Unfortunately, there are not many places where people don't commonly use swear words now. That still doesn't make it right.For the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and true, kindly upon all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn.
11-07-08, 10:26 AM #4
I support this one. I don't have cable (because of the $$ not the programs) so I can only speak on networks. If I'm watching Family Guy ( a favorite of mine actually) I know it will have foul things in it that I don't want my kids watching, so I don't watch it when there around. But we all know that you can't keep an eye on them 100% of the time. I like knowing that if they're watching something, even without my approval, it's not going to get "too" bad, like it could with cable.
11-07-08, 10:48 AM #5
I was never a big potty mouth, but definitely a "car cusser" so I tried hard to stop swearing in the car when my son came along.
I've actively screened what shows my son could watch growing up, and I'd say adult themes bother me more then the occasional f-bomb.
I was driving my son to school yesterday, and got to listen to an ad for a 90210 episode about a girl about to have sex for the first time.....with moans and groans.Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.
Do not puff, shade, skew, tailor, firm up, stretch, massage,
or otherwise distort statements of fact.FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley
11-07-08, 12:35 PM #6
I grew up with a dad who substituted Fuck, shit, and dam for and, if, and but. He was a sailor in his youth and talked like one too boot. He was (still) is a master at cussing. Hence I was never censored from bad language at a young age. I think I turn out fine.
"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within."
Since Jan. 2009
11-07-08, 03:10 PM #7
If I'm watching something supposedly innocuous I'd like to not be surprised by vulgarity when the kids are around. I know not to watch "Family Guy" with the kids in the room but I don't want to be surprised by something else. If celebrities want to cuss on awards shows that's fine but lets rate it appropriately so I know not to have it on around the kids.Pleasing nobody, one person at a time.
That which does not kill me, better start fucking running.
If I lived every day like it was my last, the body count would be staggering.
I intend to go in harm's way. -John Paul Jones
Hunt the wolf, and bring light to the dark places that others fear to go. LT COL Dave Grossman
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