The Court’s censorship ruling

In 1973, New York radio station WBAI broadcast George CarlinâÄôs âÄúSeven Dirty WordsâÄù routine in its uncensored glory. This decision precipitated a legal battle between the FCC and WBAIâÄôs parent company, the Pacifica Foundation, which ultimately led to a 1978 ruling upholding the FCCâÄôs right to restrict the content of broadcasts as they are âÄúuniquely pervasive.âÄù In reaching that conclusion, the Supreme Court noted that their ruling âÄú[did] not speak to cases involving the isolated use of a potentially offensive wordâÄù during a broadcast. Tomorrow, when Americans will be deliberating in the poll booth, the Supreme Court will pick up where they left off 30 years ago, debating whether the FCC has the right to regulate âÄúfleeting expletives.âÄù In case you donâÄôt know what a fleeting expletive is, look no further than BonoâÄôs 2003 Golden Globe acceptance speech, in which he said âÄúThis is really, really, [expletive] brilliant.âÄù Historically, the FCC has not taken punitive action over fleeting expletives but, recently, that policy has changed and a circuit court described the FCCâÄôs enforcement as âÄúarbitrary and capricious.âÄù As an editorial board, our opposition to the notion of government-regulated speech is absolute, and the FCCâÄôs decision to impose itself on the realm of the âÄúfleeting expletiveâÄù is an unjustified expansion of censorial power. In spite of all fears to the contrary, the public is eminently capable of policing itself, as evidenced by policies of media outlets and public activism in the limiting of offensive material. While the cultural value of the âÄúfleeting expletiveâÄù is debatable, unwarranted confiscation of First Amendment rights is truly abominable. We expect, as journalists and as citizens, for the Court to uphold the right of expression.