|FCC v. Pacifica Foundation|
|Argued April 18-19, 1978|
Decided July 3, 1978
|Full case name||Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, et al.|
|Citations||438 U.S. 726 (more)|
|Prior history||Complaint granted, 56 F.C.C.2d 94 (1975); reversed, 181 U.S.App.D.C. 132, 556 F.2d 9 (1977); certiorari granted, 434 U.S. 1008|
|Because of the pervasive nature of broadcasting, it has less First Amendment protection than other forms of communication. The F.C.C. was justified in concluding that Carlin's "Filthy Words" broadcast, though not obscene, was indecent, and subject to restriction.|
|Majority||Stevens, joined by Burger, Blackmun, Rehnquist, Powell|
|Concurrence||Powell, joined by Blackmun|
|Dissent||Brennan, joined by Marshall|
|Dissent||Stewart, joined by Brennan, White, Marshall|
|U.S. Const. amend. I; 18 U.S.C. § 1464|
Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978), is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision that defined the power of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over indecent material as applied to broadcasting.
In 1973, a father complained to the FCC that his son had heard the George Carlin routine "Filthy Words" broadcast one afternoon over WBAI, a Pacifica Foundation FM radio station in New York City. Pacifica received censure from the FCC, in the form of a letter of reprimand, for allegedly violating FCC regulations which prohibited broadcasting indecent material.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC's actions in 1978, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was "indecent but not obscene". The Court recognized the government had strong interests in:
The Pacifica Court upheld the FCC's power to regulate broadcast media, citing two pervading governmental interests. First, the "uniquely pervasive" nature of these broadcasts allows them to seep into "the privacy of the home" without the consent of the viewer. Second, broadcasts are "uniquely accessible to children" whose "vocabulary [could be enlarged] in an instant" by hearing indecent or profane language. The Court held that these two concerns were sufficient to "justify special treatment of indecent broadcasting," thereby allowing the FCC to fine broadcasters for airing inappropriate content.
The Court stated that the FCC had the authority to prohibit such broadcasts during hours when children were likely to be among the audience, and gave the FCC broad leeway to determine what constituted indecency in different contexts.
At first, despite the resounding win in Pacifica, the FCC used its new regulatory powers sparingly. In the 1980s, however, the FCC ramped up sanctions for indecent broadcasts as conservative groups and the Reagan Administration expressed concern over the rise of "shock jock" radio personalities. And by the early 2000s, the FCC began to levy more sanctions with higher dollar amounts--with fines of up to $500,000 for some offenses.
In 1997, Pacifica Radio "Living Room" host Larry Bensky prefaced an interview with Carlin by saying: "George Carlin, you're a very unusual guest for Pacifica Radio. You're probably the only person in the United States that we don't have to give The Carlin Warning to about which words you can't say on this program, because it's named after you."
In 1996, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act, which criminalized the knowing transmission of "obscene or indecent" messages to underage people. In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997), the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that the act violated First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. To attain standing, the ACLU published the Supreme Court's opinion on F.C.C. v. Pacifica Foundation on its website, which included a transcript of Carlin's monologue.
The following is a verbatim transcript of "Filthy Words" (the George Carlin monologue at issue in the Supreme Court case of FCC v. Pacifica Foundation) prepared by the Federal Communications Commission...