Perhaps the most visible form of censorship is that affecting the entertainment industry. Theater and film, as types of public entertainment, affect the common interest and can hence be subjected to certain types of governmental regulation. But attempts to regulate or censor often risk obstructing the free speech rights of playwrights, screenwriters, filmmakers, performers, and distributors.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is lawful to censor obscene entertainment to safeguard children from PORNOGRAPHY and to protect adults from unknowingly or involuntarily viewing indecent materials (Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 88 S. Ct. 1274, 20 L. Ed. 2d 195 ). Although Supreme Court interpretation permits individuals to view OBSCENITY in the privacy of their homes (Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 89 S. Ct. 1243, 22 L. Ed. 2d 542 ), theaters and movie houses are public places and therefore subject to regulation (Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 93 S. Ct. 2628, 37 L. Ed. 2d 446 ). The difficulty with such censorship is in trying to determine what is "obscene."
In MILLER V. CALIFORNIA, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S. Ct. 2607, 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973), the Supreme Court concluded that a work is obscene and can be regulated if it appeals to a viewer's prurient interest; portrays sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Court further ruled that interpretations of this definition may vary across the United States and that communities may apply their own local standards to determine obscenity.
To avoid government censorship, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) regulates itself through a voluntary rating system. The system does not have statutory authority but is used to help the industry conform with statutes designed to protect children. Recognizing a 1968 Supreme Court decision that favored limited censorship for minors (Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 88 S. Ct. 1274, 20 L. Ed. 2d 195), the MPAA devised a rating system based on the viewer's age. A G rating signals that subject matter is suitable for general audiences; PG stands for Parental Guidance Suggested; PG-13 strongly advises guidance for children under age 13 because of possibly inappropriate material; R requires accompaniment by an adult for children under age 17, or 18 in some states; and NC-17 or X prohibit anyone under age 17, or 18 in some states, from entering the theater.
Radio and television have also met with governmental pressure to control the content of their broadcasts. Spurred by the belief that violence on television adversely affects children's behavior and attitudes, Congress has attempted several times to encourage the media to adopt voluntary guidelines in the hope that less violence on television will lead to a less violent society. Although none of Congress's acts have been deemed outright censorship, government intrusion into broadcasting to discourage certain types of speech has not been welcomed by all. The various pieces of legislation raise questions about media self-censorship and the role of the FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION (FCC) in regulating freedom of expression.
In response to congressional pressure the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTERS adopted the Family Viewing Policy in 1974 to limit the first hour of prime-time programming to material suitable for families. The policy was found unconstitutional in 1976 (Writers Guild of America, West, Inc. v. F.C.C., 423 F. Supp. 1064 [C.D. Cal., 1976]).
Congress addressed the content of children's television with the Children's Television Act of 1990 (47 U.S.C.A. §§ 303a–303b [Supp. III 1991]), which limits the amount of advertising on children's television and compels broadcasters to air educational programs. Failure to comply with the act could jeopardize renewal of a station's license. Critics point out that the act has not improved children's programming because of its vague standards and the FCC's disinclination to enforce it.
The Television Violence Act (47 U.S.C.A. § 303c [Supp. III 1991]), proposed in 1986 by Senator Paul Simon (D-Ill.), was signed into law by President GEORGE H.W. BUSH in December 1990. This act, which expired in 1993, was intended to prompt the networks, cable industry, and independent stations to decrease the amount of violence shown on television. Although it did not constitute direct government regulation, the act was criticized as a governmental attempt to impose its values on society by discouraging, if not suppressing, unpopular ideas.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996, 110 Stat. 56, required television manufacturers to create a chip, known as the V-chip, which allows users, presumably parents, to block out programs based on their sexual or violent content. The chip, which has been installed in television sets manufactured since 1999, operates in conjunction with a voluntary rating system implemented by TV broadcasters that rates programs for violence and sexual content.
Radio broadcasts have also come under scrutiny. In FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726, 98 S. Ct. 3026, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1073 (1978), the Supreme Court ruled that a daytime broadcast of George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" monologue violated the prohibition of indecency in 18 U.S.C.A. § 1464 (1948) and was therefore subject to regulation. To many, this ruling gave the FCC further authority to censor speech and dictate values.
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