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The Year in First Amendment Rights: Television Censorship

James Tucker,
Washington Legislative Office
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January 7, 2008

Censorship has not been limited to the Internet. The continuing fallout from Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl has spurred the FCC and some members of Congress to push for increased fines for “indecency.” Targeted television programs have included broadcasts of the CBS news show The Early Show, the Billboard Music Awards, and NYPD Blue.

Perhaps the most ridiculous example of broadcast censorship came earlier this year when several PBS stations nearly pulled the Ken Burns’ documentary about World War II, The War, because during its 14-1/2-hour run, it included three words banned by the FCC: one use of the word “shit” by a veteran and two uses of the word “fuck” that were spoken by the narrator to explain the origin of expressions used during the War, “SNAFU” and “FUBAR.”

Some Senators also have taken up the crusade to paternalistically police the rights of parents to control what their children watch by introducing S. 1780, the “Protect Children from Indecent Programming Act.” That bill would keep undefined “profanity” off broadcast television from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Supporters of the legislation apparently want the government to control what is watched in every living room in America, whether in the form of so-called “fleeting expletives” or determining what is too violent for Americans adults.

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