FCC vs Pacifica Broadcasting Foundation
Uploaded by crstepts on Dec 09, 2002
In 1978 a radio station owned by Pacifica Foundation Broadcasting out of New York City was doing a program on contemporary attitudes toward the use of language. This broadcast occurred on a mid-afternoon weekday. Immediately before the broadcast the station announced a disclaimer telling listeners that the program would include "sensitive language which might be regarded as offensive to some."(Gunther, 1991) As a part of the program the station decided to air a 12 minute monologue called "Filthy Words" by comedian George Carlin. The introduction of Carlin's "routine" consisted of, according to Carlin, "words you couldn't say on the public air waves."(Carlin, 1977) The introduction to Carlin's monologue listed those words and repeated them in a variety of colloquialisms: I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss words and the words that you can't say, that you're not supposed to say all the time. I was thinking one night about the words you couldn't say on the public, ah, airwaves, um, the ones you definitely wouldn't say, ever. Bastard you can say, and hell and damn so I have to figure out which ones you couldn't and ever and it came down to seven but the list is open to amendment, and in fact, has been changed, uh, by now. The original seven words were shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the ones that will curve your spine, grow hair on your hands and maybe, even bring us, God help us, peace without honor, and a bourbon. (Carlin, 1977)
A man driving with his young son heard this broadcast and reported it to the Federal Communications Commission [FCC]. This broadcast of Carlin's "Filthy Words" monologue caused one of the greatest and most controversial cases in the history of broadcasting: The FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.
The outcome of this case has had a lasting effect on what we hear on the radio. This landmark case gave the FCC the "power to regulate radio broadcasts that are indecent but not obscene." (Gunther, 1991) What does that mean, exactly? According to the government it means that the FCC can only regulate broadcasts. They cannot censor broadcasts, meaning, the FCC has the power to determine what is offensive in the matters of speech.
Before this case occurred there were certain laws already in place that prohibited obscenity over radio. One of these laws was the "law...