FCC v. Pacifica Foundation
|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)
98 S. Ct. 3026; 57 L. Ed. 2d 1073; 1978 U.S. LEXIS 135; 43 Rad. Reg. 2d (P & F) 493; 3 Media L. Rep. 2553
|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 action in 1978, by a vote of 5 to 4, ruling that the routine was "indecent but not obscene". The Court accepted as compelling the government's interests in:
- Shielding children from potentially offensive material, and
- Ensuring that unwanted speech does not enter one's home.
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.
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.
At least one scholar has argued that modern self-censoring technology—e.g., the V-chip—has significantly undermined the Supreme Court's rationale in Pacifica. Alexander J. Lindvall, Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give a *Darn*—An Argument Against Censoring Broadcast Media, 7 Ariz. St. Sports & Ent. L.J. __ (2017).
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 438
- Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations (2009)
- Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations (2012)
- Tremblay, R. Wilfred (2003). "FCC v. Pacifica Foundation". In Parker, Richard A. (ed.). Free Speech on Trial: Communication Perspectives on Landmark Supreme Court Decisions. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. pp. 218–233. ISBN 0-8173-1301-X.
- "George Carlin, Filthy Words". Exploring Constitutional Conflicts. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
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...
- Bensky, Larry (4 June 1997), Living Room : Interview With Comedian George Carlin, Pacifica Radio Archives, retrieved 18 February 2014
- Bensky, Larry (4 June 1997), PZ0624b Radical Comedians Box Set DISC TWO, Pacifica Radio Archives, retrieved 18 February 2014
- Audio of the oral argument and decision 77-528
- First Amendment Library entry on FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, First Amendment Center, archived from the original on 1 Jul 2008, retrieved 15 February 2015
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