ACLU ‘Howls’ Against FCC Destroying the Best Poems of a Generation

October 3, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – On the 50th anniversary of a court ruling that deemed Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ not obscene, the American Civil Liberties Union lamented an ironic reversal of First Amendment rights. A New York public radio station chose not to air the poem in its news story commemorating the decision, fearful of massive FCC fines that would have effectively shut down the station. WBAI instead posted the poem online, out of the reach of the FCC.

‘Howl,’ which winds through the beat-era landscape of sex, drugs and madness, contains enough of the FCC’s banned words to crush the $4 million operating budget of Pacifica station WBAI . The fine for ‘Howl’ would have been $325,000 for each word. The FCC has ramped up its power to punish broadcasters that air expletives or indecency, regardless of the intention or cultural relevance.

The following can be attributed to ACLU Legislative Counsel Marv Johnson:

“It’s no longer accurate to say free speech has rolled back to the fifties – it’s worse now. A radio station cannot possibly celebrate the First Amendment by being forced to gag its announcers and point to a website. ‘Howl’ captured the essence of a society on the brink of explosion, and the ‘Howl’ obscenity decision marked a forward march toward greater free speech. If the FCC and our lawmakers want to repeat the repression of the 1950s, they should remember that even then the country was inching toward more freedom, not less.”

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