April 1, 2009

Pointless Freedom of Speech Boundaries

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At some point, we have all found pleasure in the crude humor of comedies or sitcoms, but the FCC has decided that we should have this privilege limited. While profanity has become an integrated part of everyday life, most agree that there are situations where this form of freedom of speech is inappropriate. However, limiting the ability of broadcasters to air profanity on television enters into dangerous territory, which is likely to bring protest from those who value the American tradition of free speech.

Several months ago, the FCC proposed new regulations, which would ban all profanity on television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Based on the FCC regulations “even fleeting expletives” would be banned during these hours. In the past, the FCC has been lenient with the prohibition of profanity, but this is changing as the FCC is imposing countless fines on those violating the regulation. Even the smallest uses of profanity have resulted in unusually large fines for broadcasting companies.

Shortly after the imposition of this regulation, Fox Television Stations brought the case to court, stating, “government regulation of content serves no purpose other than to chill artistic expression in violation of the first Amendment”. To the surprise of some, the court ruled in favor of Fox and declared that such a regulation was an “unjustified departure from the agency’s longstanding practice”. The court found that no previous fines were given to broadcasting companies for actions that are now heavily regulated by the FCC. Therefore, the broadcasting companies had no knowledge that profanity usage would now receive fines and consequently, the fines were not justifiable. On appeal, the court upheld the decision and ordered the FCC to provide detailed justifications for all fines given to the broadcasting companies.

With the case now in Supreme Court and legislation forming in Congress that would be called the fleeting expletives bill, we will soon know how far limitations can extend on freedom of speech rights. While it is true that children should not be subjected to profanity, this is nearly impossible as children face constant exposure to inappropriate behavior in and out of their homes. Consequently, limiting free speech on television will do little to limit this exposure and will only take away rights from Americans. Should freedom of speech be restricted to protect the welfare of children or are parents responsible for monitoring what children hear and see on TV?

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