Foul Language is Not "Creative Expression," Argues Prof. Jeff McCall '76

Foul Language is Not "Creative Expression," Argues Prof. Jeff McCall '76

February 9, 2008

Jeff McCall 2006.jpgFebruary 9, 2008, Greencastle, Ind. - Actress Diane Keaton's utterance of "a particular f-word" during a recent appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, and the Federal Communications Commission's inaction in the wake of the incident, provide the backdrop for an op-ed by Jeffrey M. McCall. Writing in today's Indianapolis Star, the professor of communication at DePauw University notes, "After all, it is against the law to broadcast obscene, indecent or profane language. Because of a federal appeals court ruling last summer, however, the FCC currently feels powerless to punish even blatant examples of foul language."

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "ruled against the FCC's efforts to control indecency, saying the FCC's policy of penalizing broadcasters for fleeting expletives was 'arbitrary and capricious,'" writes Dr. McCall, a 1976 graduate of DePauw. "The court pointed out that the FCC's attempt to halt fleeting expletives was a departure from prior enforcement practices. McCall Book Viewer Discretion.jpgThat's generally true but doesn't explain why the FCC's failure to enforce indecency law in the 1980s and '90s necessitates that the commission should continue in its neglect."

McCall, author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, adds, "The broadcast industry and its media allies have celebrated the appeals court ruling, calling it a victory for creative expression. Regular citizens, of course, wonder how blabbing a foul word on live television has anything to do with creativity."

While the FCC appeals the ruling before the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress considers moves to restrict indecent broadcasts, the professor points out, "Technology is now fully available to delay live broadcasts by a few seconds to bleep out the 'creative' bon mots of celebrities. The FCC and the courts should expect that technology to be used."

McCall concludes that "the FCC's effort to confront broadcast indecency is, indeed, an important issue ... As legal wrangling continues, the media industry does society a disservice by wasting its First Amendment efforts on behalf of celebrities' foul mouths and defending those remarks mccall foxtv-jan2008.jpgas artistic expression. We should recall the words of former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, a powerful defender of free speech, who wrote in 1957, 'it is apparent that the unconditional phrasing of the First Amendment was not intended to protect every utterance.'"

Read the essay in its entirety at College

Jeff McCall appeared on FOX News Channel's O'Reilly Factor on January 31. A summary of the segment -- including video and audio clips -- can be found in this previous story.

Source: Indianapolis Star