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When Is A Word Considered Profane?


In the wake of David Ortiz’ speech at Saturday’s Boston Red Sox game saluting the law enforcement officials work arresting the suspects of the Boston Marathon bombing a debate has opened up on whether FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski overstepped his boundaries addressing the language used by Ortiz as it was broadcast on NESN, Fox Sports Kansas City, and MLB Network (It was censored on ESPN’s live broadcast).

What many have forgotten is that the FCC has no oversight over cable programming. While there is potential for setting up a bad precedent in the Chairman of the FCC giving a free pass to Ortiz’ comments, it doesn’t matter if they only went out to those watching on cable television. It wasn’t even the only incident to happen on cable this weekend. In asking around we’ve verified that the word was properly bleeped on both teams’ radio networks.

The timing of Genachowski’s statement comes just a day after inviting comments on whether or not the agency should change how it handles cases of fleeting indecency and profanity. Such changes could remove the policies that led to fines levied for incidents in the past that broadcasters had no control over. A 2010 timeline at The Daily Beast shows how the FCC’s indecency monitoring has changed over the years.

The English language is constantly evolving. Words that once were considered vulgar are now part of our daily vocabulary. Less than a century ago the words “Belly” and “Stink” were among the most vulgar to use. In the 19th century “Leg” was considered to be profane.

Over forty years have passed since the first performance of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television“. One of the words, piss, has already become commonplace to hear on broadcast media. Other words then considered vulgar are used with regularity by many in society. As we proceed into the future how they are looked upon will continue to shift. The FCC needs to come up with procedures to be able to adjust their handling of what they consider to be indecent as time goes by.

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Lance Venta is the Owner and Publisher of RadioInsight.com and a consultant for RadioBB Networks specializing in integration of radio and the internet. Lance has two decades of experience tracking the audio industry and its use of digital platforms.

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