Those 7 Dirty Words

Comedian George CarlinThe seven dirty words are seven words in the English language that were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on the public airwaves – television or radio – in the United States. Comedian George Carlin first listed them in 1972 in his monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”.† The words were avoided in scripted material, and”bleeped out”† in those rare instances in which they were used.

That sort of censorship was true then in 1972, and it remained largely true throughout the intervening years, but it looks like it has now changed, possibly dramatically.

On Tuesday, July 13, 2010 a federal appellate court threw out the FCC’s rules on indecent speech. This is a big win for broadcasters that could lead to a new Supreme Court test of the government’s power to control what is said on television and radio. For now, the court’s ruling will likely end the commission’s campaign to keep the airwaves clean of even spontaneous vulgarisms with the threat of punitively large fines.

From the Wall Street Journal:

A federal appeals court threw out the FCC’s rules on indecent speech Tuesday, in a big win for broadcasters that could lead to a new Supreme Court test of the government’s power to control what is said on television and radio.

A three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency policies violate the First Amendment and are “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.”

The decision doesn’t mean broadcast TV and radio shows will now be littered with profanity, because advertisers and viewers would likely complain. But the ruling will likely end, for now, the commission’s campaign to cleanse the airwaves of even spontaneous vulgarisms with the threat of hefty fines.

“I think the notion that broadcasters are going to be dropping f-bombs in prime time is ludicrous,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “If we wanted to do that we could do that from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” when FCC indecency standards don’t apply.

Ashby Jones and Joe White discuss the ruling by a federal appeals court that struck down the FCC’s indecency policy. The court said the agency’s efforts to punish broadcasters for allowing “fleeting” expletives was “unconstitutionally vague.”

The judges found that the agency’s decision to sanction broadcasters’ airing of one-time or “fleeting” expletives is unconstitutional, and suggested the FCC’s broader indecency enforcement efforts are unconstitutional as well.

Fox along with other broadcasters sued the FCC in 2006 after the agency said the networks had violated indecency rules when airing “un-bleeped” profanities of celebrities during live televised events and levied heavy fines and penalties against them. Since the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York affirmed the broadcasters’ lawsuit President Obama’s FCC will have to take this the US Supreme Court if they wish to continue continue to police the language used in broadcast media as they have been doing.


It will be very interesting to see if the Obama regime will decide to push this issue to the SCOTUS or allow the appellate court’s ruling to stand unchallenged. The FCC’s policy and belief in its authority over the matter of obscenity and vulgarity on broadcast media is quite longstanding and reached its peak during the “Bush Era,” yet Fox, whom Obama hates and fears, is leading the suit against the FCC. It’s anyone’s guess at this point which way Obama will jump and command his FCC to act.

Plausibly but somewhat oddly to my mind, President Obama’s decision on how to have his FCC respond to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York’s ruling may hinge upon Janet Jackson’s nipple-bearing wardrobe malfunction in 2004 during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show.

Janet Jackson’s Nip-Slip During 2004’s Super Bowl XXXVIII

In 2004 the FCC under President Bush fine CBS $550,000 for “Nipplegate,” which provided the viewing public a half-second look at Janet Jackson nipple, nicely adorned with a sunburst nipple shield. On July 21, 2008, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in favor of CBS and overturned the FCC’s fine.

The similarity between the cases is irrefutable and the decisions by the two appellate courts was the same. That, as much as politics and personal feelings, may determine whether or not President Obama orders his FCC to take their chances with an appeal to the SCOTUS.

Related Reading:

The Official CBS Watch! Collector's Edition Presents - NCIS
FCC Amateur Radio General Class  Question Pool Study Aid
FREEDOM!
GROL+Radar
FCC Regulations for the Amateur Radio Service - Title 47 CFR Part 97 (9Strand Books)

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2 Responses to “Those 7 Dirty Words”

  1. This Would Be Honest | Reflections From a Murky Pond Says:

    [...] would like if they were both honest their opinions of women and not still constrained by ever weakening anti-obscenity laws? I think that the cover of such an issue might look something like [...]

  2. Decent Side-Boobs | Reflections From a Murky Pond Says:

    [...] did, expect this ruling. It is completely consistent in findings and reasons with the Court’s earlier rulings on “fleeting obscenity” and “transient nudity,” rendered on July 13, 2010 [...]

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