Save our speech: We need FirstAid

The Senate snuck in unanimous consent for an indecency bill that multiplies fines for what the prigs on the FCC consider indecent to $325,000 per utterance and up to $3 million per act. The House version is different but just as frightening.

So, if you are on live TV and you say “Bush’s war is bullshit,” every station that airs it will be fined and you, too, can be fined if one of these bills is signed into law, fined into bankruptcy and chilled into silence. This is bullshit.

Damnit, we need a vocal response to this effort to shut us up. We need an impassioned defense of the First Amendment. We need to see network executives — and not just their front-man groups — standing up to fight. We need to see the entertainers who have been and will be penalized stand up for their rights of free expression. We need to see journalists stand up to defend the First Amendment that defends them.

First, we need to see coverage. This barely got attention in the news.

  • james

    JJ said, “This is bullshit.”

    “That’ll be $350,000, please”, said FCC clerk Norma Bates, in charge of monitoring the internets.

  • Stefan Constantinescu

    This is why as an American I’m seriously contemplating moving to Canada.

  • Clinton

    This issue is particularly scary. Its a love loving legislator’s issue, a really good reelection issue(strange then that its not being covered). Its bipartisan in that it expands the federal govt (democrat m.o) and it moralizes the country, the only legit republican reason for said expansion.

    Why must we legislate our moral code? (talk about paper) Why must religion be a formal part of govt? Why the hell are we so distrustful of ourselves as a nation? Its an epidemic, there is no sense of national concience or personal responsibility. Bullshit Bullshit Bullshit.

  • Clinton

    I suppose coverage now could be bad for politicians. better to look at the polling data and then bring it up. “I voted for a bill to ensure the salvation of every american”.

  • Carrick

    This is why as an American I’m seriously contemplating moving to Canada.

    Go for it. Those of us who love our country will stay and fight.

  • David

    Doesn’t this cover only broadcast television?

  • michelle

    On Friday morning, a 30-year co-worker told me we were living under a dictatorship because she could no longer listen to Howard Stern on her drive in to work, the government was listening in all of her calls and she could no longer travel overseas because we are so hated.

    “The fines would not apply to cable or satellite services.” So what does that leave…not much. I can’t help but view this legislation as an empty gesture. The networks will simply tape delay everything to a greater extent than they already do and sexual inuendo will continue to thread through advertisements and content.

  • Jon

    Bulletin from New Orleans: Ditto, this is bullshit.

  • http://www.Shmoozenet.com/yudel Larry D

    When will congress finally cut the crap, and just legislate the Republican Party as the official Party of the US, Wingnut Christianity as the official religion, and George W Bush as God’s representative on Earth? Enough with the mucking around — let them express the courage of their convictions!

  • Kat

    michelle–your friend should move and find out what a dictatorship really is–otherwise he/she sounds like an idiot afraid of its own shadow. I can listen to Stern if I chose to, I have no muslim terrorist friends calling me so no one cares about my calls, and I’m afraid to travel overseas where they would force me to wear a headrag and not allow me to carry a Bible or treat me like the Netherlands is treating Ayaan Hirsi.

  • http://ruthcalvo ruth

    What these fines indicate is a mindset of legislating morality that ignores the self-governing element of public interest. What the public doesn’t support shouldn’t be imposed on it. This is a government that tends to assume the role of ruler, not of public service.

  • Condor

    I only hope that someone is keeping a list of all these laws that the Bush administration is pushing through so that later this year, when the Senate and House are returned to sanity (Democratic control), they can reverse this insanity.

  • Usual Suspect

    Ha!

    I notice my political comment *really* laden with obscenity was “removed”.

    Nice double standard, Jeff. Et tu?

  • chico haas

    Losing “shit” on live broadcast TV isn’t much of a threat to First Amendment rights.
    Not being able castigate Bush, or any government policy, on live TV – that’s the threat.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    I love it when Big Government turns around and bites its biggest advocates.

    If only they’d see the problem for what it is, instead of mistakenly blaming their favorite scapegoats.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Well, usual, I’m sure your friends on the playground were amused.
    There’s no double standard here. The point is that I set my own standards and you, apparently, yours. We don’t want government setting them for us.
    My killing of your comment was not censorship. It was editing, which perhaps you should have considered undertaking yourself.
    We all have our own limits, which is precisely why we don’t need government to set them for us.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Jeff,

    You sound like an incipient Libertarian!

    If only you could see that government regulation was far more pernicious in the economy, in education, in healthcare,…..

  • Usual Suspect

    Ahhh…Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder I see.

    Well, Jeff, it’s your site and you are free to censor the language here.

    (that is, in fact, I’m sorry, what you did)

    My disgusting post was political in nature and filled with obscenity, I’d censor it too if it were my site.

    Now, Jeff, the airwaves belong to the *public* just as this site belongs to you. And how the people who *own* the airwaves (us) decide the borderline is a democratic political process. We are doing *precisely* the same thing you did. (you just don’t like *our* standards)

    The problem, Jeff, is that you rant because you want *your* standards and not the public’s to be used.

    This little “exercise” proves your “free speech” sanctimony to be the worst kind – that of the hypocrite.

    And that makes you an ass.

  • Ravo

    Usual Suspect Says:
    because you want *your* standards and not the public’s to be used.

    This little “exercise” proves your “free speech” sanctimony to be the worst kind – that of the hypocrite.

    That Jeff’s standards for this site are high, while his preferred standards for public arenas are so much lower a majority would probably consider them gutter level, – that is what I find hypocritical.

    I believe it was formerly mentioned the higher standard was because of meeting search engine approvals…or something like that. Search engine sensibilities apparently are to be given more consideration than the sensibilities of the majority of the public.

  • Eileen

    “That Jeff’s standards for this site are high…” ?

    And “search engine sensibilities apparently are to be given more considerations than the sensibilities of the majority of the public”….yes…..previously noted. That’s the ticket.

    But I’ve also noted some exceptions to THat very same rule at this site. Ravo, you must have missed the one where JJ glorified use of the “C” word on broadcast tv in one of his posts, and didn’t seem overly bothered when several posters called me the same when I protested HIS gleeful celebration of same. (He certainly didn’t delete any of THOSE comments.) He made an exception to the ‘ole search engine’s “feelings and rules” to support HIS version of freedom of speech in that case…as in others at this blog.

    Ah, what a tangled web we weave.

    Usual Suspect has the meat: “Obscenity is in the eye of the beholder.”

    And, most importantly:

    “Now, Jeff, the airwaves belong to the *public* just as this site belongs to you. And how the people who *own* the airwaves (us) decide the borderline is a democratic political process. We are doing *precisely* the same thing you did. (you just don’t like *our* standards)

    The problem, Jeff, is that you rant because you want *your* standards and not the public’s to be used. ”

    Bingo.

    Suffice it to say that UNANIMOUS votes by Senators and House legislators of both parties regarding this legislation, who are representing their constiuants pursuant to the law, seem to be ‘getting’ the fact that Americans – yes, the majority of us – don’t
    wish to be drawn further down the hole into that which JJ finds acceptable….even at the risk of hurting his software’s feelings.

    If JJ doesn’t like the law, then he should work on changing it. Until then, his rants – and his very own “NON-CENSORED” standards are so much:

    **Insert your favorite swear word du jour.**

    And Jeff? “Borderlines” are what the law is all about. Yours? Mine?

    Or OURS, eh?

    In every facet of the American – or any other – judicial/legislative system, standards and borderlines are adopted and then regulated across every spectrum of our existence.

    Those standards, and the laws which codify them, aren’t YOours or MIne, JJ. They’re OURS. You say CU** and I say tomato.

    So be it. Or go change it via the legal and legislative process.

    Usual Suspect has the

  • Eileen

    Errr…please ‘delete’ that last line re Usual Suspect…but not him or her.

    I’ll respect the law of this blog if I can figure out what it is.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    As usually, you wilfully ignore the apparent: Censorship is what governments do. Editing is what I — or sometimes, you — do. We all have our standards and our judgments and, one more time, the point is that those are our own standards, not government’s. It is dangerous and downright unconstitutional for governnment to control speech. We would not tolerate it on the bookshelf; there is no good reason to tolerate it on the air.

  • Usual Suspect

    “As usually, you wilfully ignore the apparent: Censorship is what governments do. Editing is what I — or sometimes, you — do.”

    It’s the last refuge of the “absolutist” – semantics.

    Edited huh? The “one click of the delete key” kind of “editing”, eh?

    You properly censored (to the point of deletion) the post I made because it was obscene! I made it so, chock-a-block FULL of graphic, vulgar obscenity, on purpose. It HAD to be censored.

    Internet discussions, blogs, etc. breed a kind of blind and absolutist “logic” whereby any problem in the world can be reduced to a black and white absolute rule. Like other solitary soapbox platforms it’s the danger of the medium. After all how could one, say, “solve” the genocide in Darfur by “internet debate” if the causes and effects are not simplified to ridiculous and absolute positions. What would Limbaugh do if he admitted the benefits of feminism. What would Franken do if he acknowledged some successes in Iraq. What would Jarvis do if he accepted the notion that not all speech is created equal. It happens all the time, NSA data mining? Black and White. The War on Terror? Black and White. Freedom of speech? Black and White.

    “It is dangerous and downright unconstitutional for government to control speech. We would not tolerate it on the bookshelf; there is no good reason to tolerate it on the air.”

    Black and white!

    The problem, Jeff, is that the world is really a big, gooey, inconsistent blob of grey. Almost *nothing* is absolute or – black and white. This fact makes it much more hard to have tidy logical absolutist positions on a blog. You just don’t sound as “smart” or “snarky” or “concise” if your blog articles are mostly “well, it depends…”.

    Like the rest of your ilk, Limbaugh, Franken, Hannity, Dowd it puts you in a corner. A reductivist, absolutist, absurd simple-minded consistency. Consistency being the coin of the pontifical realms!

    And in this case, like so many others, the answer actually is “it depends”. You certainly don’t maintain that my post, full of graphic sexual (pornographic) and excretory “imagery” used as an insult to Bush would be fit for broadcast, do you? It’s not even fit for the actively sought and voluntary read “pages” of a blog. So even you, Jeff, must admit there is a “borderline” of acceptable speech in the public sphere. You removed my post within a minute of its posting. I doubt you had to think much about it.

    So if there is a borderline, how shall it be set? Since you, Jeff, are most likely too busy pontificating to spend your days at the FCC mediating every instance, what shall we, the public, do?

    In fact, since your “edit” removed not only the obscenity, but the political content as well (the part about Bush and the Military Industrial Complex) perhaps you wouldn’t be a good choice even if you were available.

    How could we remove obscenity without overreaching like Jeff Jarvis?

    Perhaps we might have our elected representatives set community standards in a democratic process? A process subject to the Constitution and the rule of law as interpreted by the Supreme Court. In order to prevent the censorship (or Jarvisian “editing”) of the content, we might have the laws focus on the obscene words rather than the implications or the *content* (political or otherwise) of the statement. Hmmmm? How do we do that? How do we avoid censoring the content but block obscenity the public finds offensive? How about a list of words we all agree are obscene? And instead of a government filter, we’ll simply impose fines when words on the list are used and let the media police themselves. Since only the listed offensive words are at issue the media will most likely just “bleep” out those words (to avoid the fines) and leave the rest of the content alone.

    (Something even Jeff Jarvis couldn’t manage.)

  • Becks

    Had enough of the government telling you what you can and cannot watch on TV? Stand up for free speech and your right to control your own TV remote. Join TV Watch today, at http://www.televisionwatch.org.

  • clinton

    Usual Suspect your a real revolutionary. I bet your sitting at your computer with a red beret capping your curly black locks. Jeff’s point about editing/censoring is more that just semantical. How can you accidentally blur the lines between personal choice and policy that compels. The differences are pretty apparent. Also not every dirty tidbit that makes its way into legislation tucked between pages 11234 and 11235 is the product of a voter mandate. Starry eyed democraholics

  • Usual Suspect

    I am actually a very conservative republican.

    “Jeff’s point about editing/censoring is more that just semantical.”

    Not in the case of his actions. He censored my post. Rightly so. Why? It was *obscene*!

    Broadcast television comes into the public’s living rooms. Jeff denies to the people what he takes for himself.

    He owns the blog, the public owns (and more importantly, licenses the use of) the airwaves.

    He has a right to block obscenity from his blog, they have the right to block obscenity from the airwaves.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Sorry Usual Suspect,

    But I take issue with any absolutist who declares the world “grey”.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Usual:
    Right. The NETWORK has the right to decide what to put on the network and the MARKET (aka, us) will decide whether to accep that or drive them out of business (won’t be seeing any Janet Jackson body parts again… and certainly no sponsorship of them, eh?). But the government should not be telling us what we can put there. The old broadcast-into-the-livingroom argument is outmoded; see the post above; my kids have no idea what’s broadcast and what’s not (and, no, that’s not an excuse to spread the same government control of speech across other media… or they will, indeed, be the ones censoring your comment here on the internet). And as for being our airwaves? You bet your, uh, rump they are. Millions watch and enjoy the shows a few hundred prigs don’t like and so why should the FCC enforce the alleged community standards of the few against the many? Let the market decide, I say. That should be the conservative mantra, no?

  • Ravo

    Clinton asks: How can you accidentally blur the lines between personal choice and policy that compels.

    Usual Suspect’s answer to that question bears repeating.

    “Jeff denies to the people what he takes for himself.

    He owns the blog, the public owns (and more importantly, licenses the use of) the airwaves.

    He [as owner]has a right to block obscenity from his blog, they [as owner]have the right to block obscenity from the airwaves.”

    [as owner]” inserts were mine – Ravo

    JJ says:We would not tolerate it on the bookshelf; there is no good reason to tolerate it on the air.

    The bookshelf is passive. It requires action from the participant to read it. The bookshelf doesn’t intrude into unsuspecting ears in public places.

  • Usual Suspect

    “The NETWORK has the right to decide what to put on the network and the MARKET (aka, us) will decide whether to accep that or drive them out of business (won’t be seeing any Janet Jackson body parts again… and certainly no sponsorship of them, eh?). But the government should not be telling us what we can put there.”

    Wrong. It does all the time. Obscenity is regulated in lots of places. You may not put pornography on a billboard. You may not engage in live sex acts in public (even with political content). These restrictions (and others) have been held as constitutional by the Supreme Court over and over again.

    Why? Because it is PUBLIC space. Why did you. uh, “edit” my post out of existence, Jeff?

    The public owns the airwaves. The public has a right to prohibit obscenity in a manner which is held by the courts as Constitutional. It’s a big fat whopping GREY AREA it’s a target which will move over time. (God Bless America). It will be litigated over and over again, such is our belief in Free Speech. (God Bless America again!)

    “The old broadcast-into-the-livingroom argument is outmoded; see the post above; my kids have no idea what’s broadcast and what’s not”

    Sorry the ignorance of your children has no importance in this question. “Public Space” in terms of obscenity has a long history of clear (though changeable) definition in statute and in precedent. The airwaves constitutes public space because of its passivity and *public* ownership.

    “(and, no, that’s not an excuse to spread the same government control of speech across other media… or they will, indeed, be the ones censoring your comment here on the internet).”

    Printed media is not considered public space unless it is on open display (ie. Billboards, etc). This is irrational and unsubstantiated fear mongering on your part.

    “Millions watch and enjoy the shows a few hundred prigs don’t like and so why should the FCC enforce the alleged community standards of the few against the many?”

    Speaking of “alleged” you have no real idea what most or many or few people think in this regard. Decide public policy by opinion poll? Sorry, Jeff a republic doesn’t work that way. I am surprised I have to point that out to you.

    “Let the market decide, I say. That should be the conservative mantra, no?”

    In all things? No. I don’t know where you got that idea, from your kids?

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    Jeff,

    Why won’t you argue for government divestiture of the public airwaves?

    Wouldn’t that guarantee you the freedom of speech you clamor for?

    It’s kind of tough to say “we, the public, own the airwaves” without having any government oversight. Do you think we could have National Parks with no tax-payer funded employees picking up the trash and whatnot?

    Once you take the public monies out of the equation, 80% of your critics will go away.

    As it stands now, the public DOESN”T own the airwaves any more than it owns the “land”, parks, monuments, etc.

    The free market can’t decide anything until IT owns the spectrum – it needs to be auctioned off to the highest bidders.

    As for Congress, have they ever voted against anything that gives them more power or the ability to levy fines/taxes?

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Usual: We are talking about “indecency,” not “obscenity.”
    Captious: I don’t disagree.

  • Usual Suspect

    Shades of the same thing.

    Like hair-splitting is to argument losing.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    It’s not hair splitting at all. It’s a critical legal distinction. Just ask the Supreme Court.

  • Usual Suspect

    o…k…

    The Supreme court held that the FCC could fine broadcasters for indecent language.

    What is your point Jeff?

  • clinton

    The “open view” argument really gets to krux of the debate for me. In many ways television programing is more predictable, content wise, than books are via the ratings posted before and during programs. No such ratings exist for books. So whats the difference between books and tv in this respect? Both require some action on the part of the partaker in order to partake. Would this legislation be more likely to extend to the book shelf if we had remote controls for books? Who doesnt have a book on their shelf that they’d rather their 8 yr old not read just yet. Who is responsible for that child not picking it up? So I would argue that neither are in “open view” and pesonal responsibllility as parent or guardian is the only cure for content indiscretions. For a free society we sure seem eager to give our oh so trustworthy political representatives power to prohibit everything we have a moral disagreement with. Why give them the power to make the choice that is yours? I guaranty your better at deciding what your kids are ready for. Its called the off switch; use it and dont aflict the rest of the country with you moral code!

  • clinton

    Oh yes as I was saying, the one thing that is certain as far as ownership is concerned is that you own your home and you own your tv. Dont make the decision for others.

  • Satan

    You evangelicals may win the battle but I will win the war!!!!
    !!! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!!!!

  • Eileen

    Can we even distill this debate without ultimately becoming grey? I doubt it.

    As an aside, one of the most profound comments my Dad ever made was this: “When you’re young, everything in life is all very black and white. The older you get, the greyer things become.”

    The law, as Usual Suspect notes, is ALL about grey tones. That is what makes ‘the law of the realm’ of our democracy such a beacon. The 1st Amendment isn’t black or white. nor is the 4th and etc. The executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government have been interpreting, updating and modernizing our living, breathing Constitution for more than two centuries now.

    It is the amalgamation of our views and our orderly analysis and governance which is our greatest strength.

    Jeff would have us all be strict constitutional constructionists with respect to the First. But the fact is our Constitution breathes.

    I’m glad Jeff didn’t disagree with Captious, for that is the kernal of the debate; to wit: public vs. private domains, ownership and governance. As long as the public airways are licensed by the government, then WE will govern them. Hat tip to Usual as well.

    Many of us do not accept the left’s suggested options of either turning off the tv or turning the channel in order to escape either indecency OR obscenity on the only channels some/many even have available for viewing, and particularly during only certain hours. ‘Your way or the highway’ isn’t the ‘solution’ because it leaves too many people out, and because it imposes YOUR will instead of OUR representative government’s will. Geez, do parents have to turn the channel AFTER their kids have heard fuck and seen a steel nipple? By then they’ve already been ambushed. Who the hell knows when or where or what kind of edgy (in search of the 30 year old male demographic, ad revenue inducing) ‘incoming’ they’ll spring on us next?

    Jeff wants to abolish the FCC. Is that pragmatic or even practical given the fact that someone needs to ‘take out the trash’ as long as our government licenses the use of OUr public airways? Jeff likes the fact that the Sopranos on cable used the word cunt. He thought it was dandy. In Jeff’s no-holds-barred world, apparently that would be equally fine during prime time on the public airways as well.

    Unanimous votes by Senators and Legislators regarding this NEW legislation related to indecency fines not only support prior FCC administrative rulings and judicial decisions related thereto, but leave it up to the networks to evaluate the relative ‘value’ of injecting F and S and C, or wardrobe malfunctions and Etc. into prime time tv on the public airways. If they want to reap the rewards of holding those government rewarded, monopolistic licenses, then they need to recognize they answer to US, the public, too.

    They get to choose.

    It’s a beautiful life, really.

  • http://marginalizingmorons.blogspot.com/ CaptiousNut

    The FCC should be abolished but not because it’s in the pocket of moralizing prudes, as I infer from many posters. The FCC has a record of stifling innovation and is part of the reason why our national broadband capacity is lagging other countries. See Forbes comment this week. (link may require password)

    Too many people base their censorship arguments on what the government ought to do rather than what it can do. Given the reality of today’s plethora of media outlets, notably the internet and cable tv, the government simply cannot meaningfully shape the content of media. Tighter restrictions are just going to drive more people to the internet and toward satellite radio and cable tv.

    I am astounded that product boycotting isn’t a bigger deal these days. Bill O’Reilly has shown that it can be done effectively. As a father of small children, I deplore this filth on MTV. But until someone or group starts attacking the subsidizing advertisers, that garbage isn’t going away. Heck the DVR is going to turn this paradigm upside down anyway.

    There’s no grey area here. When was the last time Congress set out to do something and actually achieved their objective – without wasting billions of taxpayer dollars or causing an array of negative externalities?

    When was the first time?

  • clinton

    Lets sterilize the world. its the only safe way to live. Eileen why so happy that so many decisions in your life are out of your hands and in the hands of dirty politicians? I dont think its just left wingers that oppose censorship. some notable right wing nut jobs are on that bandwagon too (hannity, limbaugh etc). My fear is in surrendering too many desicion making opportunities (or rights) to legislators in exchange for a safey net (why cant we just trust ourselves?). Cant you see that you bush loving crazies have gotten a little god happy over the past 7 years? What happens when the apocolypse or whatever happens and some amoral pornographer wins the presidency? Youll wish you had the right to make your own desicions (esp on a moral level) but itll be too late- youll be all tangled up in your safety net. In order for a citizenry to stay reasonably formidable we need to retain some degree of sovereignty from our own government.

    Another misconception is that this “unanimous approval” is the snowy white and pure manifestation of your–america’s will. your representatives havent heard you. did you vote on this? I bet you wrote dozens of letters right? Theyre hedging their bets and doing the expedient$$. Far from an example of representative govt working, its an example of it doing what suits itself. Eileen this makes you happy somehow?

    Ive missed you Eileen.

  • Eileen

    You bored, clinton?

    I’d stick around and play, but American Idol’s* about to start and I need to get my baked potato, artichoke and king crab legs cookin’. Heh.

    I’ll write thank you notes to the ‘responsible’ parties, um, later.

    *Who you voting for? Vote early and vote often. :)

  • clinton

    Its just makes me happy to see my name typed out. Hope dinner was lovely. Go the one who isnt that taylor guy!

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  • rmichael

    If you do not believe that we are being nudged (by baby steps ) into a police state via regulation, then, well, your common sense has been comprised by well intended academia…. and while you are thinking about it .. please don’t!

    rmichael