The Daily Stern: The Code

The Daily Stern: The Code

sealnab3b.gif: SEAL OF GOOD CENSORSHIP: Since broadcasters — under pressure from government — are considering reinstating a code of decency, I thought I’d reexamine the Code of Practices that was rescinded — under pressure from government, namely the Reagan administration — in the ’80s. Or in our parlance, I’m fisking The Code.

As irrelevant as The Code became, it’s quite relevant today, for it will necessarily be the starting point, the touchstone for any new Code they create. Where’s the line? Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it? Where’s the line? And who says where that is?

Some excerpts and comments:

Profanity, obscenity, smut and vulgarity are forbidden, even when likely to be understood only by part of the audience. From time to time, words which have been acceptable acquire undesirable meanings, and telecasters should be alert to eliminate such words.

No boobs, you boobs.

Attacks on religion and religous faiths are not allowed.

Reverence is to mark any mention of the name of God, His attributes and powers…. [Clergy] portrayed in their callings are vested with the dignity of their office and under no circumstances are to be held up to ridicule.

So The Code is explicitly trying to proselytize the nation. And it won’t allow us to make fun of, oh, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, or hundreds of kiddie-diddling priests.

Respect is to be maintained for the sanctity of marriage and the value of the home. Divorce is not treated casually nor justified as a solution for marital problems.

So much for “The Burning Bed.”

Illicit sex relatoins are not treated as commendable.

So much for prime time.

Drunkenness and narcotic addiction are never presented as desirable or prevalent.

The administration of illegal drugs will not be displayed.

Just ignore them and they’re not there.

Exhibitions of fortune-telling, astrology, phrenology, palm-reading, and numerology are acceptable only when required by a plot…

So much for Crossing Over with John Edward.

Televised drama shall not simulate news or special events in such a way as to mislead or alarm.

So much for every storyline “ripped from the headlines.”

The presentation of cruelty, greed and selfishness as worthy motivations is to be avoided.

So much for reality TV.

Unfair exploitation of others for personal gain shall not be presented as praiseworthy.

Donald Trump: You’re fired!

The presentation of techniques of crime in such detail as to invite imitation shall be avoided.

CSI: You’re canceled.

The use of horror for its own sake will be eliminated; the use of vusual or aural effects which would shock or alarm the viewer, and the detailed presentation of brutality or physical agony by sight or by sound are not permissible.

Well, I guess you won’t be seeing Mel Gibson’s The Passion on TV.

Law enforcement shall be upheld, and the officers of the law are to be portrayed with respect and dignity.

Unless they rob, steal, or beat up people for no reason. OK, destroy the Rodney King tape.

The presentation of murder or revenge as a motive for murder shall not be presented as justifiable.While you’re at it, destroy those “Murder, She Wrote” tapes.

The costuming of all performers shall be within the bounds of propriety, and shall avoid such exposure or such emphasis on anatomical detail as would embarrass or offend home viewers.

The movements of dancers, actors, or other performers shall be kept within the bounds of decency, and lewdness and impropriety shall not be suggested in the positions assumed by the performers.

Camera angles shall avoid such views of performers as to emphasize anatomical details indecently.

Henceforth to be known as the Janet Jackson Clause.

News reporting should be factual, fair, and without bias.

Commentary and analysis should be clearly identified as such.

Good taste should prevail in the selection and handling of news.

Insert punchline of choice here.

It is the responsibility of a television broadcaster to make available to the community as part of a well-balanced program schedule adequate opportunity for religious presentations….

A charge for television time to churches and religous bodies is not recommended.

‘Nuff said.

What’s most frightening, of course, is that some people reading all this today would be nodding their heads, eager for the return of The Code. That’s where they would draw The Line. In fact, under the heat of government pressure, that’s where many stations are starting to draw The Line. But it’s not government’s job to draw lines or force others to. We, the market, the citizens, are capable of doing that.

If the marketplace truly demanded this kind of TV, it’s the TV you’d end up with because that would be the way for broadcasters to make money. But the marketplace listens to Howard Stern … and watches sitcoms with sex and divorce … and dramas with crime and more sex … and the marketplace doesn’t watch religion…

It’s the government that’s pushing for The Code, the government that’s drawing The Line, the government that’s trying to control what we say and hear and watch.

The Reagan Administration got rid of The Code for a reason. There’s no good reason to bring it back.

: UPDATE: Ernie Miller highlights yet more frightening lines in the old Code.

  • Reid

    “If the marketplace truly demanded this kind of TV, it’s the TV you’d end up with because that would be the way for broadcasters to make money”
    But, isn’t the moderate liberal critique of the free market exactly this? That, in many ways, the marketplace is not sufficiently imbued with compassion and concern for the true welfare of the people and, so, its excesses must be tempered with moderate government intervention?
    I thought you were basically a liberal who was mugged by 9-11, Jeff. Have you now morphed completely over to the Libertarian side?

  • Mace

    Reid – why are you so fixated on figuring out how to label people? Do you get that confused if people don’t fit into one of a handful of neat buckets?

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    Bring on the new Hayes Commission. Bring it on. Decency should be free. Jarvis and his ilk should have to pay for access to people vomiting on whores and other porn.

  • All this wholesomeness is really creeping me out. It reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
    Go get ’em, Jeff.

  • JorgXMcKie

    Too bad we can’t rationally get someplace in the middle. Too far either way is too far. The questions are: how do we decide what too far is; and what mechanism is used to correct for too far?
    I tend to use the Potter Stewart definition. “I know it when I see it.” I also don’t like the government being or using the enforcement mechanism. What are our other choices?

  • billg

    Jeff’s alleged fisking is superficial and something other than cute.
    While he may appluad the marketplace that has given us reality TV, Trump, Stern, and Crossing Over, there are a lot of other people who simply want to know where all this crap came from?
    Censorship is bad, but so are content merchants who exploit their privileged use of the public airwaves.

  • Eric Akawie

    It’s interesting how closely this hews to the Comic’s Code Authority implemented in the ’50s.
    The original text is available here:

  • “The presentation of cruelty, greed and selfishness as worthy motivations is to be avoided.
    So much for reality TV.”
    Well, I was a fence sitter on this issues until Mr. Jarvis pointed that out to me. If it takes the crushing of free expression to rid my cable box of all those PAINFULLY stupid, innane, predictable “reality” shows THEN BRING IT ON! NOW! I’m writing Michael Powell and begging him to implement any rule to strike that scourge of civilization from the airwaves.

  • billg

    SSG B:
    A rational approach to the cable TV piece of this puzzle would be opening that business to the marketplace and to competition.
    — Let’s have true ala carte pricing. I don’t believe the cable companies when they claim that’s a technical challenge. The notion of packaging is, itself, premised on their ability to block a subscriber’s use of specified channels. If they sell 40 channels for $40, we ought to be able to buy any single channel for $1.00. (I fear Congress may allow the cable companies to sell ala carte channels as an extra cost goody added on to the existing packaging schemes. Meaning we’d still have to buy some silly package and then pay them to block the channels we didn’t want in the house. Bad idea!)
    — Is there any reason why monopoly cable companies can’t carry programming from competitors? The telcos were forced to open up their wires to competing firms. Why not cable?

  • bob

    I stopped taking this seriously some posts back. (Somewhere between here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.)
    Not censorship. That, I take seriously. But Jeff Jarvis on censorship, I don’t. After all, if you’re not going to take this seriously, why should I? It seems more like you’re gunning for an appearance on Stern’s show than for its right to continue without interference.
    Don’t get me wrong, Jeff. Otherwise, the blog’s great, for all that my single opinion is worth. And the censorship posts don’t hurt your credibility on other matters. But there are far more serious discussions on censorship; I’ll stick with those.

  • you’re wasting your time fisking that malarkey.
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
    no matter if they call it a “code” or set up an “fcc” they are abridging the freedom of speech, and it’s unconsitutional.
    case closed, bro.

  • Stephen

    Please, bob, explain to me how this is not a serious issue?

  • All I want is the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine. Is that too much to ask?
    What sounds more American than that? And damn it, it worked. It lessened the influence of money. Note I didn’t say got rid of the influence.
    Bring back the Fairness Doctrine and all will be right with the world.

  • Gee, Jeff, I’m quite frankly terrified now. They once had (shudder) concepts of taste and discretion in mind for teevee back in the Jackboots ‘N’ Brownshirt fifties. How horrible! To compare, being drawn and quartered like William Wallis would be preferable.
    Oh excuse me, didn’t mean to get sarcasm all over your nice clean blog.
    And Debra Galant, is The Handmaid’s Tale that work of exaggerated and highly speculative science fiction the one where the response of the Enlightened, Multiculturally-Aware, Educated ‘N’ Compassionate academics to a transformation of the lower 48 into a Christian Fascist Misogynist Theocracy was to flee to Alaska and form a study groups to sit around theorizing about the problems of the oppressed? I dunno, I skimmed the text and skipped to the end of the book and tossed it back onto the remainder shelf where it deserves to lie until its eventual transformation into recycled toilet tissue so maybe I am remembering wrong.

  • bob

    Stephen, did you make it to the third sentence?

      “Not censorship. That, I take seriously.”

    If you made it through my post thinking that I don’t take censorship seriously, then I’m impressed. Perhaps an analogy is better.
    Let’s say I throw on a pink bunny suit and hop down the sidewalks yabbering about censorship. You might, understandably, laugh at me. Does that mean you don’t take censorship seriously, or does it mean that you’re having a hard time taking the guy (me) in a pink bunny suit seriously?
    By the way, I do support the right of all men and women to hop down the sidewalks yabbering about censorship. So long as they don’t bowl over any children.

  • syn

    Please clarify which dirty words who have banned from this site and what standards you used in determining their indecency? Are your standards religious in nature or are they secular?
    Your blog may be ‘privately owned’ but the internet is not. Please explain how you are able to ban certain words you feel are inappropriate on a publicly held venue.
    Hypothetical question: How would you respond to a governmental organization telling you that you have no right to ban inappropriate language on a public venue?