Ban the C-Word

There are a great many words that are considered “bad words” in American society. The Federal Communications Commission oversees what words are permitted on broadcast TV and radio, and what words are not. Recently, the FCC has been involved in a practice that is much more offensive than the words it seeks to contain: censorship. America’s Founding Father’s designed America based on the principals of free speech and a free press. However, the Federal Communications Commission seems determined to focus less on those freedoms, and more on the practices of other early Americans: the Puritans. The FCC has begun what they claim is “a crackdown on broadcast smut,” but true free expression has been thrown by the wayside in this campaign. Everyone is, of course, entitled to act according to his own moral beliefs. But, rather than infringing on others’ rights to take in the TV and radio programming of their choice, I propose that everyone offended by broadcast content exercise their right to turn off the radio or TV. Much of the uproar over sexually-charged content on the airwaves began with Janet Jackson’s infamous breast-baring stunt during this year’s Super Bowl. The weeks following brought a veritable witch hunt against controversial radio personalities. Talk radio, once a landscape dotted with outstanding and outrageous programming, began to seem a bit tamer once radio mogul Clear Channel began to purge shows like Howard Stern’s from their stations. I can understand where the FCC is coming from on this issue. Every year they receive hundreds of thousands of complaints, the majority from parents who claim that content is inappropriate for children. To those parents: I agree with you; there is a great deal of broadcast content that is simply unacceptable for young children. Some content on Howard Stern is downright unsettling even for many adults. I recommend that parents guard their children from the explicit sexual discussion on the air, but I also would like to remind them that it should not be the government’s job to do their parenting. Likewise, although many parents would have all explicit content banished to the realm of cable and the internet, hosts like Stern should have the right to their type of free expression over the public airwaves. The public airwaves are not an abstract concept. They are a living, breathing, and organic reflection of the society that uses them to reach its members. Subjects like sex and violence, however offensive they may seem to many people, are a fairly ingrained part of American culture; for the government to arbitrarily silence the voices of some according to the opinions of others is far a more offensive concept than the petty talk of bedroom antics on Howard Stern or the sight of Janet’s uncovered bosom. The ubiquity of cable and the Internet have now solidified the foothold of free expression in media that can reach nearly all Americans. The crusades of the FCC can never reach channels like HBO, let alone media such as Internet radio. Attempts to silence artists and hosts on broadcast media while cable is such a viable alternative seems a foolish move for the FCC to make; by doing so, they rid themselves of responsibility for the words of these hosts. Given the enormous popularity of shows like Stern’s, it seems far better to allow him to continue about his business, while warning parents to cover their own children’s ears. The FCC stands at a crossroads right now, and from outward appearances, they have already chosen to take the path of censorship of broadcast media. In their censorship, the FCC sends us the nonsensical message that all protected speech is free, but some speech — cable and internet — is freer than others. In a country such as ours, the FCC’s new policies are simply absurd. By fining broadcasters up to $175,000 for explicit sexual discussion, the FCC is making it prohibitively expensive for networks to allow shock jocks and other cutting edge personalities to have their say. People want to hear Stern, and I do not think the FCC should interefere in the free market.