Broadcasters who are mindful of the FCC, know not to say the 7 dirty words. But beyond that rule lays an unregulated landscape of souble entendres and 4th grade slang, full of regulatory tripwires.The FCC lent a guiding hand to shock jocks and other broadcasters last week, when it presented some new guidelines using transcripts of actual broadcasts.
FCC on Decency
April 14, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: Broadcasters who are mindful of the FCC know not to say the 7 dirty words, but in terms of keeping the regulators at bay, they don't have a whole lot else to go on. The FCC lent a guiding hand to shock jocks and other broadcasters last week when it presented some new guidelines using transcripts of actual broadcasts. The examples cited were termed either indecent or not indecent, which is how the government says decent when it doesn't want to sound like it's endorsing Geraldo Rivera's unlocking the great mysteries of sex. For example consider the drive time duo of Stevens and Pruitt [sp?] on KLOL Houston. They didn't use any dirty words, per se, but the way they said the word "big" did not sit well with the commissioners. Stevens and Pruitt's use of "big" was apparently so titillating that the segment was deemed indecent. Then there's this song.
SINGING MALE CHORUS: SIT ON MY FACE AND TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME...
BOB GARFIELD:When San Diego's KGB-FM replayed this Monty Python ditty the FCC ruled indecent. I quote now from the report. The song was found to be actionably indecent despite English accent and ambient noise because the lyrics were sufficiently understandable. Are you paying attention British vulgarians? No matter how charming and sophisticated the accent, you will find [SHOUTING] no safe harbor here! On the other hand, an announcer using one of the 7 dirty words after botching a news report was found to be not indecent. Other examples of not indecent broadcasting, an Oprah Winfrey Show on relationships and NPR's own Mike Schuster who filed a report on John Gotti wiretaps with expletives not deleted, was also found not indecent. Mike Schuster, how do you feel being turned into a teaching guide from the FCC?
MIKE SCHUSTER: If my story affects one shock jock or one mafia don-- I'll have done my job!
BOB GARFIELD: Context and moderation seem to have guided the FCC. Most of the examples ruled indecent ranged from dumb to disgusting. For instance we feel no pressing need to play The Uterus Song. As for the examples ruled not indecent: Schindler's List, for example, most of them would offend only the most Victorian sensibilities. The consequence is that the FCC's new guidelines may still be too vague to alter any behavior in the real world. But that doesn't mean the government watch dogs don't matter. Some entertainment industries are trying to steer clear of the hounds by regulating themselves.