Now Can I Say $*%@!#& on Television?

By Summers, Nick | Newsweek, August 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

Now Can I Say $*%@!#& on Television?


Summers, Nick, Newsweek


Byline: Number 17, NYC and Nick Summers

Yes--if it's used as an adjective, say, or after 10 p.m. Indecency rules have been in flux since the early days of radio. Back then, the FCC's sole weapon was to revoke broadcast licenses, so networks, and their advertisers, set their own censorship standards. A few weeks ago, a federal court ruled that the FCC can no longer fine broadcasters if someone blurts out an expletive on the air. And we have Bono to thank.

1960: Congress grants the FCC the power to fine broadcasters who air "obscene, indecent, or profane language."

1975: The FCC levies its first indecency fine--against radio broadcaster Pacifica Foundation, which airs comedian George Carlin's "seven words you can't say on television" act, even though regulators never had an explicit list.

1978: The Supreme Court backs regulators in FCC v. Pacifica, writing that the agency can place some restrictions on "indecent" broadcasts.

1987: Realizing broadcasters can still offend by dancing around certain words, the FCC makes tougher rules.

1995: Infinity Broadcastingpays a $1.7 million fine for various offenses by shock jock Howard Stern.

2001: For the first time, the FCC fines a television broadcaster, Telemundo, for a suggestive hot-tub scene on a variety show.

2002: Cher drops the F bomb on a live awards show--and gets away with it.

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Now Can I Say $*%@!#& on Television?
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