Hollywood Uplink – August 2007: Swearing

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August 2007

        Issue: 16:8

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Swearing
by Dick Rolfe, co-founder and CEO – The Dove Foundation®

While The Dove Foundation focuses its attention on movies, there are a great many parallels with television, video games, and music. One key issue that concerns family advocates of all media platforms is the increased use of cursing.  Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, a nonprofit organization in NYC that works to curb traffic in obscenity and uphold standards of decency in the media contributed to this article.More than half (52%) of adult Americans say the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should have authority to fine any of the major broadcast TV networks, such as NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX, for airing a single expletive or “four letter word,” according to a new poll conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Morality in Media. Forty-two percent of adult Americans disagreed with the statement. Here is the question and results:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, should have authority to fine any of the major broadcast TV networks, such as NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX, for airing a single expletive or ‘four letter word?’”

Among women who work and have children in the home, 69% agreed, 39% strongly so. Among those adults between the ages of 45-54, 62% agreed, 39% strongly so.

Peters remarks, “There is a perception on the part of many in secular entertainment and news media that because they, along with many in their circle of friends or co-workers, curse with impunity, most everyone else must do likewise, or at least not be bothered too much by it.”

Unfortunately the courts are beginning to agree with that position. According to Peters, “Broadcast TV networks sued in federal court are challenging various FCC determinations that the broadcasters violated the broadcast indecency law and challenging the constitutionality of the law itself, a law that has been on the books since 1927 and that has been upheld by the Supreme Court.”

He went on to say, “In one of those lawsuits, the TV networks argued that the FCC had no authority to fine a network for airing a ‘fleeting expletive,’ and last month two federal Court of Appeals judges seemed to agree with them. Furthermore, the two judges seemed to think the FCC no longer has authority to fine a broadcaster, even if the broadcaster airs curse words continuously.”

Peters admits realistically, “While many Americans may on occasion utter an expletive, most adults also understand that cursing or swearing is not acceptable behavior, especially around children.”

He added, “The FCC should not necessarily fine a broadcast licensee whenever an expletive is uttered over the airwaves.” But giving broadcasters the protected right to curse once in a while, “borders on madness, and giving broadcasters an unlimited right to curse crosses that border.”

This all goes back to the basic question: Does media reflect or influence society? There is no clear cut answer. It is clear, however, that media organizations are in effect corporate citizens in the culture. And as such, they should take the lead in exemplifying decent behavior and decent behavior begins with decent speech.

Coarseness of speech or action can lead our society down a slippery slope that will be difficult to recover from. For example; as recently as 1987, the word “butt” was considered a “four letter” word on network TV. But in 1993, “NYPD Blue” gave us a glimpse of the first naked butt on broadcast television.  We certainly came a long way in such a short time.

Together, let’s continue persuading Hollywood and the media to take the high road when expressing itself. I have no doubt that taking such a responsible position on this issue would have a positive influence on our social discourse.


The Dove Foundation® is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  Our mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment.  We are supported primarily by donations from families such as yours who want to move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction.  All donations are tax deductible.
Copyright © 2007 The Dove Foundation®. All rights reserved.