Monday, November 28, 2005


Original Chimes Article Here

Censorship should stay in the home

[ see also FCC censorship inconsistent, unfair ]

“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” –United States Constitution

In our lifetime, we have seen the Internet grow from something we heard about only on the news to something we use every day. With the rapid growth of the Internet, many questions have been raised about how to regulate it. While we look at these new questions, it is worthwhile to re-examine some old questions as well.

The American citizen does not need the government to tell him or her what he or she should watch.

Behind the regulation of the Internet in the United States lies the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC was established in 1934, and has been charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. Many of the services provided by the FCC are beneficial. The censorship aspect of their regulatory power is not.

The same act that created the FCC also states that “no person ... shall utter any obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio communication.” Ever since then, the FCC has been able to dictate what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for the rest of America to watch on their television or listen to on their radio. The FCC is even able to regulate what time certain kinds of material are shown.

The FCC is most notorious for its ban of the “seven dirty words.” In 1974, a father driving with his young son heard a broadcast of George Carlin’s Colloquial monologue, “Filthy Words” which contained “words you couldn’t say on the public airwaves.” The father complained to the FCC, and the resulting verdict established the FCC as one of the largest censorship organizations in the world.

The Cable Television Protection and Competition Act, passed in 1992, mandated that even cable stations be censored by their affiliates. Although the law was amended in 1996, the instance shows the frightening ability for censorship by the FCC.

More worrisome is the Communications Decency Act, currently being contested by the American Civil Liberties Union. This act makes it possible for the FCC to fine $250,000 for indecent material posted on the Internet. Because of the vague wording of the law, a person posting “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger or “Ulysses” by James Joyce would be subject to the fine.

The really astounding thing about this censorship is that every computer, television and radio already comes equipped with a device to protect its viewer from objectionable material. It’s called the off button. Those who do not wish to hear or view offensive material are not obligated to, but (as Supreme Court Justice Brennan points out) the FCC violates the rights of those who do wish to hear or view the broadcast. The American citizen does not need the government to tell him or her what he or she should watch. It is an individual’s choice. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that censorship, like charity, should start in the home. Unlike charity, King added, it should stay there.

The FCC should realize, as Supreme Court Justice Harlan pointed out, that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” An individual should have the freedom of expression on the airwaves, radio waves or Internet. The individual should be able to choose the words he or she feels would best express him or herself. The censorship of the FCC is in direct violation of our liberties.

No comments: