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cen essay - FCC Censorship Un-American Immoral and...

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FCC Censorship: Un-American, Immoral, and Ineffective Freedom of speech is one of America’s most fundamental values, and is generally regarded as essential to the functioning of any open democratic society (Qualter 4). However, given America’s plurality of backgrounds and opinions, some speech will inevitably offend and harm others. Following John Stuart Mill’s “Harm Principle”, the American government seeks to protect sensitive citizens and impressionable children from the harm caused by unwanted exposure to offensive content that is deemed to be indecent, obscene, or profane. Through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government regulates all “free-to-air” broadcasts, ensuring that all content over such media meets certain standards by fining or even revoking the license of broadcasters that violate federal decency laws. In recent years FCC regulation has become much more prevalent in American society, with both the number and severity of such fines increasing significantly. Few broadcasters have been hit harder than Howard Stern, who alone has accumulated millions of dollars worth of indecency fines. Federal punishments for undesirable content are tantamount to censorship of free speech, and are thus in violation of the First Amendment and in opposition to the functioning and survival of our democratic government. Whereas the current policy greatly favors what the FCC perceives to be the public good, it should be focused on preserving the individual liberties of its citizens and fostering an autonomous society of personal responsibility. Despite America’s long history of content censorship, by today’s standards the FCC remained relatively unobtrusive until only very recently. The federal government has been censoring broadcasts of undesirable content since it first began regulating mass communication with the Radio Act of 1912. Although it gave the government limited
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Follick powers of enforcement, this act set the clear precedent that the government would not tolerate broadcasts, "containing profane or obscene words or language"(Brown 5). Up through the 1990’s the FCC was somewhat lax about enforcing broadcast decency, issuing only 36 fines between 1987 and 1997 (Brown 16). However, with the election of George W. Bush and his appointment of Michael Powell as FCC Commissioner came a time of drastically increased government action against indecency. Over the course of Powell’s time as commissioner, the maximum indecency fine went from $27,500 to $275,000, then $500,000, then $3 million. In fact, in 2004 the FCC fined broadcasters $7,928,080 more than in the ten prior years combined (Brown 16). This massive increase in federal regulation has had a significant chilling effect on the free speech of American
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cen essay - FCC Censorship Un-American Immoral and...

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