FCC Ruling on 'F-Word' Fires up Pro-Family Groups

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

(Editor's notes: Changes descriptor for groups urging FCC action. The following also contains references to a word that the reader may find objectionable.)

- Pro-family groups are urging action after the Federal Communications Commission's ruling that the use of the "f-word" during the 2003 Golden Globe Awards does not violate the commission's obscenity standards.

The American Family Association (AFA) and Parents Television Council (PTC) sounded off over the January broadcast of the awards show in which performer Bono used the phrase: "This is [expletive] great."

"This ruling clearly opens the floodgates for general use of the 'f-word' in any TV show or radio program - except in sexual situations," said AFA founder and Chairman Donald E. Wildmon in a statement.

"That means that real soon, you will be watching a sitcom on TV, or news, or any drama or movie - any program - and it's okay! Hollywood is rejoicing!" Wildmon wrote.

"Soon, when you are driving your kids to school, you will be listening to a song that makes extensive use of the word," Wildmon added. "Shock jocks such as Howard Stern are now free to use any language, no matter how vile and repugnant, on their radio shows. And use it they will.

"No longer will movies shown on TV have to be edited because of language," wrote Wildmon, who urged people to contact their congressman, senator and members of the FCC.

"Have we now reached the place where common decency enforcement is deemed censorship?" Wildmon asked.

"The chief of the FCC's enforcement bureau determined that the 'f-word' is not indecent for primetime broadcast television if it is used as an adjective or as an insult. I cannot imagine a ruling that could make a bigger mockery of an organization charged with serving the public interest," said PTC founder and President Brent Bozell in a statement.

"I ask that each commissioner respond personally and publicly whether he agrees with this decision," added Bozell, who is also president of CNSNews.com.

Bozell wrote to the FCC's five commissioners demanding answers regarding the commission's decision.

In an Oct. 21 letter to the commissioners, Bozell wrote: "On January 19, 2003, a national television network broadcast contained a performer clearly speaking the words 'f-ing brilliant.' This broadcast was viewed by millions of Americans, a substantial number of whom were young children."

Added Bozell: "On October 3, 2003, Mr. David H. Solomon, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission, issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order which rejected the claims of citizens across the United States that the aforementioned program content was indecent.

"Mr. Solomon's Opinion states that the offensive language does not fall within the scope of the Commission's indecency prohibition because 'the performer used the word 'f-ing' as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation.' Moreover, the Opinion states that 'offensive language used as an insult' and 'fleeting and isolated remarks of this nature' do not warrant Commission action.

"This means it is the position of the FCC that one can use words like 'f-k,' or phrases like 'f-k you' over the public airwaves, in front of millions of children, because they are only an insult or an adjective and do not describe sexual activity," Bozell wrote.

"I ask you to state clearly and unambiguously whether you agree or disagree with this decision," Bozell added. "Silence on this matter can only be interpreted to be your affirmation of this decision."

The Federal Communications Commission did not return calls seeking comment, but in an Oct. 27 letter to the Bozell's request, FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps responded.

Copps said although he could not comment "directly on the specifics" of a decision that will soon come before him, "I do believe as a general matter that a single word can indeed constitute indecency and be actionable under the authorities granted to the FCC. For years, the commission itself so believed and so acted."

"Certain words were deemed sufficient to justify indecency rulings. The commission has arguably come to put more emphasis in recent years on the contextual presentation of indecency. I am concerned that we may be too narrow in our interpretation of the statute. Interestingly, the statute restricts obscene, indecent or profane language," Copps wrote.

"I would also examine closely any approach wherein a word that might otherwise be indecent is deemed to be indecent if it is used as 'only' an adjective or expletive," the commissioner added. He repeated that "a single word can violate the statutory prohibition."

Copps suggested that "if our current definition of indecency is not getting the job done," the commission should "reexamine our definition."

The commissioner said he gave the FCC a failing grade on the issue of enforcement of statutes that exist to curb indecency.

"The 'race to the bottom' of the airwaves just continues to get worse. When only a tiny minority of complaints at the commission result in any action at all, it is time to take a hard look at why so many instances of indecency are falling through the cracks," Copps wrote.

Copps applauded Bozell for asking the commissioners to address the issue of profanity on the airwaves and agreed that "commission-level commitment" is necessary to address indecency.

"As I traveled across the nation during my media ownership hearings this past year, I saw first-hand the rising anger of the American people over what they and their children are being served up during primetime viewing hours," Copps wrote. He encouraged Bozell to "keep pushing, and pushing hard" on the indecency issue.

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