Say No To Censorship While You Can

by Jan Baughman

April 12, 2004


First they came for the statues, then they came for the performers, and then they came for me.

From the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 to the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004, to the myriad laws that are chipping away at legal abortion (e.g., the Unborn Victims of Violence Act signed by the president on April 1), and the potential Constitutional amendment to define marriage, efforts to legislate morality are on the rise. And what can't be legislated is being censored.

John Aschroft's draping of the breasts of the statue of Justice to hide their indecency was a foreshadowing of a lofty effort to liberate Afghan women from their burkhas, only to bring them here... Now, even garden statuary is modestly covered, and the threat of Janet's live breast -- the moral terrorism she inflicted on American airwaves -- reaffirmed the government's need to control what we see and hear. It knows what's best for us, after all.

The Clean Airwaves Act, sponsored by Representative Doug Ose (R-CA), was introduced to the House in December 2003 (H.R. 3687). And having aptly learned from the creators of the USA Patriot Act and finding the exact right moment to strike thanks to the Super Bowl half time show, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004 (H.R. 3717) was passed in March 2004 to increase the penalties for violations by television and radio broadcasters.

Free speech and freedom of choice are becoming the freedom to turn the channel from one watered-down station to another, replete with propaganda and "we know what's best for you" programming, party-line news, and the so-called reality TV that has become the fantasy life of the enslaved.

Whether Howard Stern was subsequently cancelled by Bush's friends at Clear Channel for his so-called indecency or his attacks on their leader is moot. Either motive constitutes censorship as defined by Webster: [The act of examining] "books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio programs, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds." Clear Channel never provided evidence that Howard Stern broadcasted any of the bad words, (1) and this listener can attest that they are routinely bleeped, should a wayward guest utter any of them. Yet Stern's attacks on Bush and the religious right; his criticism of the war on Iraq, the president's obstruction of stem cell research, and vanishing abortion rights; and his unabashed urging of listeners to vote Bush out of office come through loud and clear. That is, in the remaining markets in which he can be heard. Clear Channel cancelled him in Fort Lauderdale, FL; Cocoa Beach, FL; Louisville, KY; San Diego, CA; Honeoye Falls, NY; and Pittsburgh, PA.

And the censorship is not only targeted at the "risqué;" we have become increasingly censored from the obscene: the obscenities of poverty, hunger, war-torn countries demolished in the name of Capitalism and Democracy, the human targets of our bombs, the actual military budget. Yes, we know obscenity when we see it. That's why it, too, has to be hidden from public view.

The Statue of Justice's blindfold was intended to symbolize that all are equal under the law. That blindfold is now a blatant symbol of its utter disregard for equality and legal rights. And true to our word of exporting Democracy, we are applying our style of justice to Iraq, halting its insurgent press, removing public posters of insurgents, desperately trying to regain control of insurgents, everywhere...

It's all well and good to focus on the 2004 presidential election. But when it comes down to it, there is a great deal of legislation happening on and under the radar screen, at which our energy perhaps would be better focused, particularly while we still have a voice backed by a Bill of Rights and a forum in which to express our insurgency. The slope is growing ever more slippery.

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Notes & Resources

1.  Lest Swans be subject to fine/imprisonment, I refer you to the legislative website of the Library of Congress, where the text of The Clean Airwaves Act (H.R. 3687), which says what we aren't supposed to say, is published: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:H.R.3687. This act amends Section 1464 of title 18, which states:

"Whoever utters any obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."

The amendment inserts '(a)' before 'Whoever', and adds at the end the following:

As used in this section, the term 'profane', used with respect to language, includes the words 'shit', 'piss', 'fuck', 'cunt', 'asshole', and the phrases 'cock sucker', 'mother fucker', and 'ass hole', compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).'"  (back)

Farrell, Maureen. The Clear Channel Controversy, One Year On (Why Howard Stern's Woes Are Your Woes, Too). March 23, 2004, http://www.buzzflash.com/farrell/04/03/far04009.html (as of April 10, 2004).

Clear Channel Yanks Stern From 6 Stations. April 8, 2004, CNN.com.

US Elections & Democracy on Swans

Activism under the Radar Screen on Swans


Jan Baughman on Swans (with bio).

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Published April 12, 2004
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