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Bob's Weekly Report - Common Decency on the Airwaves

Location: Washington, DC

Bob's Weekly Report - Common Decency on the Airwaves
DATE: February 25, 2005

In most American family rooms, furniture is arranged around a centrally located television. Like it or not, television, and what we watch with our families, is an integral part of home life.

This explains the public reaction, when, in January of 2003, a well-known rock star, Bono, uttered a graphic profanity during the "Golden Globe Awards" during prime time network television. Following that incident, a complaint was filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) alleging that the decision to air this program over the public airwaves and the use of the word constituted obscene and indecent material.

But on October 3, 2003, the FCC issued an outrageous order to the contrary. The FCC's questionable reasoning permitted this deplorable language because the profanity in question was used as an adjective and not to describe an explicit sexual act. Despite this overly technical reasoning, the fact of the matter is, that the millions of children who watch television during prime time, simply would not make, and should not have to make, that sort of distinction.

I was outraged by the FCC's decision in this matter, and I believe that this incident and the FCC's response show how indifferent the mass media and the FCC can be toward our nation's traditional values. The ruling sets a dangerous precedent for the use of inappropriate language on any radio or television channel at any hour and it sends a less than desirable message to the broader entertainment industry about the FCC's willingness to regulate and enforce standards for broadcast decency.

In January 2004, another firestorm of public outrage hit the FCC. While millions of people tuned into the Super Bowl, another well-known rock star, Janet Jackson, found herself at the center of the debate of what constitutes indecent material on television as a result of her claimed "wardrobe malfunction".

With the start of the new Congress, my colleagues and I continued our campaign that started in the 108th Congress against questionable content on television. The House, this week, overwhelmingly passed legislation that dramatically boosts the fines the FCC can impose on broadcasters and performers for airing indecent material.

There must be a level of expectation when a parent turns on the television or radio between the family hours that the content will be suitable for children. With passage of this legislation, I am confident that broadcasters will think twice about pushing the envelope.

We have come to a point where language that most folks would not dream of using in private, certainly not in front of children, is now acceptable on television. This reflects a general coarsening of values and a fundamentally flawed misunderstanding of "free speech". Simply put, profanity of this sort has no place on television.

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