Thursday, April 22, 2004

F the FCC

Working at a southern public radio station, we’ve gotten a lot of info from the state broadcaster’s association, a law firm , and a few other sources all purporting to help us with the proposed and currently existing indecency standards .

A few paragraphs caught our attention because they listed the
words that will now be considered not just indecent, but “profane” if H.R. 3687 is passed.
Besides the usual suspects like "shit" and "fuck", they included "piss"
and "asshole" and some other milder ones as well as all grammatical
derivations thereof. They also went on to say that even made up
that could be construed to have sexual or excretory
connotations depending on their context should not be
allowed–examples were the familiar “canoodle” and the
never-heard-of-it “hobble-de-gaga.”

Not only that, but apparently Democratic turncoat Zell Miller of Georgia has written a bill that would fine broadcasters a quarter for each person in their audiences who heard and/or saw the indecent broadcast. It has little to no chance of passing of course (the logistics of such a law would be a nightmare), but the mind reels when considering how far back into the Inquistive past the right-wingers would like to go, if only the damn liberal media would let them.

So what to do? I personally favor not being able to say “Dick”
or “Bush” even when reading the news on the air about our president and
vice-president. In its context, I find it indecent because Dick and
Bush are trying to fuck us. This whole saga has created a situation in which I have to ask our general manager if we can play “Dang Me” on the air. I kid, but only a little bit–surely the religious freaks can find some language to set down in law that points out some way that “dang” or “darn” are offensive–i.e. “They really mean damn.”

Speaking of that, not only would made up words be off-limits if deemed sexual or excretory in context, but plain ol’ ordinary words
would be too, like "suck" and "blow" (on page 7). So to me, that’s where the chilling
effect comes in. These proposed new guidelines are basically saying that
"suck" and "blow" are not bad in and of themselves, but you’d better
watch any and every use of those words. Why? Because a broadcaster
never knows when some socially conservative stay-at-home-school-uber-Pentecostal mother will be offended that she heard the word “suck” on the radio. Because ultimately, we the FCC will decide if the context was offensive or not and you really don’t have a say in the matter. In fact, the primer (not online)from Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth acknowledges:

The Commission's "definition" of indecency is unquestionably vague. The "definition" of "profanity" is even more so. And any claim that either or both of those definitions are somehow informed by the "views of the average viewer or listener" is certainly subjec to dispute, particularly when the programming which is alleged to be indecent can be shown to be especially popular.

So you as a broadcaster are inclined to not air anything with
the words "suck" or "blow". Then you start to wonder what other words
might have such a connotation. What about “freak”? A lot of R&B
and rap music uses “freak” as a synonym for “fuck” so if you air a
political talk show and the host mentions a “religious freak” can
that be construed to mean “a religious sex session” and therefore
profane? Can it? Yes. Should it? Of course not. Will it? I
wouldn’t be surprised in this post-Janet Jackson frenzy of

And that’s what is frightening about the whole affair. More
and more words could potentially be put off-limits until all one can
say is “God is great”or “Praise the president!” And the creepy
part of the situation is, you’re not told exactly what is
off-limits, what you’re told is that we’ll decide if it falls under
our definition of indecency if and when it ever comes up. So
there’s no way to know how to comply with the standard–because it’s
fluid by design. You have to constantly look over your shoulder and
wonder–will they fine me if I air this? That of course will lead to
not airing anything that has the slightest whiff of controversy.

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