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Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation

Patently Offensive Language Hits The Fan

On 30 October 1973, at approximately 2:00 p.m., a New York City radio station owned by the Pacifica Foundation aired "Filthy Words" in its entirety. Among the listeners to the program were a motorist and his young son. The motorist strongly objected to the content of "Filthy Words," and sent a written complaint to the FCC within a few weeks of the broadcast. The FCC forwarded the complaint to the Pacifica Foundation, which responded that the monologue had been played as part of a serious examination of changing attitudes toward language, and that before the program listeners had been warned that it included "sensitive language which might be regarded as offensive to some." The Pacifica Foundation also advanced the view that George Carlin was a significant social satirist who used the potentially offensive language to "satirize as harmless and essentially silly our attitudes toward those words." The FCC ruled on the matter on 21 February 1975, finding in favor of the complainant and stating that the Pacifica Foundation could have been "the subject of administrative sanctions." The legal basis for the FCC's decision rested in 18 U.S.C. 1464 (1976) (hereinafter referred to as 1464), which forbids use of "any obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communications," and 47 U.S.C. 303, which requires the FCC to "encourage the larger and more effective use of radio in the public interest." Finally, the FCC advanced the position that it did not seek to prohibit the use of patently offensive speech but only to restrict its use to those times of day when it was unlikely that children would be in the audience.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation - Obscene Or Offensive Speech, Filthy Words, Patently Offensive Language Hits The Fan, Legal Proceedings