Larry Flynt

Posts Tagged ‘FCC’

Fuck the FCC!

Monday, September 8th, 2008

BIG BROTHER CLAMPS DOWN ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, ONE DIRTY WORD AT A TIME.

In 2002, during Fox’s live broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards, Cher answered critics who for years had been saying she was through. “So fuck ’em!” the singer/actress exclaimed triumphantly. The next year, on the same Fox program, honoree Nicole Richie asked rhetorically, “Have you ever tried to get cowshit out of a Prada purse? It’s not so fuckin’ simple.”

On March 17, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will rule in its next term whether or not the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to levy fines on Fox for violating the government’s indecency standards. For the first time since its historic act of censorship in the notorious “Seven Dirty Words” case in 1978, the High Court will decide what words we will be allowed to hear over the airwaves.

Thirty years ago, on the Pacifica Foundation radio network, George Carlin had listed—mocking the silliness of the FCC’s prudery—“the original seven words you couldn’t say on the public airwaves: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits.”

The verbatim transcript of Carlin’s hilarious (but also sharply serious) assault on the FCC’s contempt for free speech is an appendix, for all to read, to the Supreme Court’s decision in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.

The Supreme Court plans a new probe into whether “fleeting” indecency is permitted (as with the spontaneous Cher and Nicole Richie comments). If the law is interpreted on the restrictive side, an offending station or network could be fined, by the current FCC gag rule rates, up to $350,000.

It is likely that the current Roberts-Alito-Scalia Supreme Court will agree with the FCC that the children of America must not be exposed to such shockingly coarse language on the public airwaves. Such a ruling—especially if the next President fills vacancies on the Court with other upholders of the 17th-century Puritan standards of the Massachusetts Bay Colony— means the FCC could go on to purify cable and satellite television and radio. And after that, why not the Internet?

The contagious nature of government censorship—particularly when “family values” are at stake—was evident to me when I did not see one mainstream newspaper or magazine or a publication devoted to the law itself (Legal Times in Washington being the sole exception) use the word fuck in reporting on the Supreme Court’s taking on FCC v. Fox Television Stations. But the print media are not licensed by the government. That’s why we have a First Amendment.

As Harvey Silvergate—a Constitutional lawyer, a veteran and a formidable defender of free speech in the courts and his writings— said in Boston’s Phoenix Weekly : “[A]ny newspaper that voluntarily keeps out vital information—something that the broadcast networks are fighting not to have to do— betrays our First Amendment right to free speech and free press. As Lenny Bruce might have observed, it’s a fucking outrage.”

And by contrast, that’s why I feel privileged to write for HUSTLER. Why shouldn’t the First Amendment also apply beyond the print media? Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote of the First Amendment the way Louis Armstrong played trumpet, answered that question in logical and Constitutional terms: “TV and radio stand in the same protected position under the First Amendment as newspapers and magazines. … The fear that Madison and Jefferson had of government intrusion…was founded not only on the specter of a lawless government but [on the specter] of government under the control of a faction that desired to foist its
views of the common good on the people. …The sturdy people who fashioned the First Amendment would be shocked at the intrusion of government into a field which in this Nation has been reserved for individuals.”

I quoted Douglas’s ringing of the Liberty Bell in my 1980 book The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America (Dell). Douglas was no longer here when cable, satellite radio and the Internet began to abound, but I have no doubt he would have included them. In its coverage of the Supreme Court’s ominous intention to rule on FCC v. Fox Television Stations, the New York Times did not dare tell its readers that Cher and Nicole Richie had committed the speech crime of saying “fuck.”

Dissenting in the 1978 “Seven Dirty Words” case, Justice William Brennan accused the majority of his brethren of a misguided intention “to impose its notions of propriety on the whole of the American people…[violating] the broadcaster’s right to send, and the right of those interested to receive, a message entitled to full First Amendment protection.”

However, writing for the Court in upholding the FCC and exiling George Carlin’s right to swear forbidden words on the public airwaves was Justice John Paul Stevens, for years since a leader of the so-called liberal wing of the Supreme Court. But as for those “dirty words,” Stevens in 1978 brushed off the First Amendment: “To say that one may avoid further offense by turning off the radio when he hears indecent language is like saying that the remedy for an assault is to run away after the first blow. One may hang up on an indecent phone call, but that option does not give the caller a Constitutional immunity or avoid a harm that has already taken place.”

The “harm” inflicted by the FCC is to the core of what differentiates us—if the Constitution is alive—from all other countries. John Paul Stevens still sits on the Supreme Court of the United States. Will he repent? And as you would expect, the Bush Administration is enthusiastically supporting the FCC.

Nat Hentoff Nat Hentoff is a historian of the Constitution, a jazz critic and a columnist for the Village Voice, the Washington Times, the United Media Newspaper Syndicate and Free Inquiry. His incisive books include The First Freedom: The Tumultuous History of Free Speech in America ; Living the Bill of Rights ; Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee ; The War on the Bill of Rights—And the Gathering Resistance ; and the forthcoming Is This America?


Access Denied

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

The death of network neutrality could mark the end of the Internet’s First Amendment.

By Marc Madow

The Internet is true democracy in action, giving everyone with access a voice. But what would happen if giant telecommunication companies were to act as cyberspace gatekeepers? What if Big Business decided which Web sites load quickly and which ones load slowly? What if your Internet service provider (ISP), in cahoots with Big Business, picked the search engine you use? What would happen if bribed politicians and free-market advocates were to do away with network neutrality—the controversial first principle of the Internet that keeps everything equal?

Here’s what would happen: The corrupt powers-that-be would have ultimate control over what gets online, thereby affecting the information you receive.

Nobody will feel this global change more than the journalists of the world. In today’s climate of fear, print and TV reporters critical of the Bush Administration have become targets of a witch hunt. As a consequence, most have fallen silent. Bloggers—which include online news observers and pontificators—have become the new guerrilla warriors against tyranny. At a time when we most need accurate reporting, the real news is often ignored, consistently underplayed, sometimes disappearing altogether.

Why? Because the global corporate media ignore news that their corporate bosses and/or the Administration deem “un-American.” Respected mainstream journalists have been reduced to whispering leaks to alternative news outlets and online opinion-shapers, who then do the real reporting. With net neutrality heading over a cliff, Web-based muckrakers could also be silenced.

Whether you like it or not, much of the job of exposing corruption has come down to Internet pioneers like independent investigator Dave Lindorff, who called public attention to the TIPS home-grown spy program in 2002 and who also exposed the notorious “no-fly lists.” If you’ve heard about the glitch-ridden voting machines being used in this country’s elections, you likely got your info from blogs like BradBlog.com.

In fact, online student activists using anonymous Web portals were some of the first to expose how rotten things were with Diebold, one of the major makers of electronic voting machines. But unfettered campaigns like this may soon be a thing of the past if the telecoms get their way.

Ever hear the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? The telecoms could benefit from that advice. In the first 30-odd years of the Internet’s existence, ISPs acted as trucks (carrying your packets of information), and all traffic was the same. The Web was like a highway with a single speed limit regardless of whose cargo it was carrying, where it was headed or what was being shipped. All users and sites were equal.

The Internet’s First Amendment was working perfectly. But unlike the Constitution’s First Amendment, net neutrality was an unwritten law—the easiest kind to repeal—so lawmakers recommended legislation be put into effect. Just as America’s founders insisted on having the Bill of Rights written into the Constitution, net neutrality advocates wanted a few “Thou Shalt Not” regulations spelled out in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Advocates of regulation include the liberal media and many large Internet companies like Google. They claim that telecom providers are making a power grab to unfairly profit from investments, in turn violating antitrust laws and discriminating against users. Opponents of regulation include large telecom carriers, network parts manufacturers and free-market advocacy groups like the Cato Institute. They argue that net neutrality laws are unnecessary and counterproductive. Whom do you believe?

As evidence of the skullduggery involved here, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin spent the year 2006 making speeches at industry trade shows, as well as at his reconfirmation hearing, assuring us that we don’t need rules to guarantee net neutrality. His antineutrality case is based on the laughable proposition that self-regulation will be enough to curb corporate greed. Martin would have us believe that only one case of abuse has occurred so far, which is highly arguable. Rather than take preventative measures, he prefers to wait until another major abuse happens, which the FCC—with its notoriously unenforceable rules—will then handle in its flabby, halfhearted way.

Actually, the FCC had already done a number on the net neutrality principle with its August 2005 policy statement (FCC 05-151), which defined the Internet not as a common carrier accommodating all traffic, but as a passive, one-way medium like cable TV. Just as a cable company chooses the programming it offers, the way was cleared for broadband providers to pick the Web content they would carry. The Supreme Court followed up with a ruling in National Cable & Telecommunications Assoc. v. Brand X Internet Services, saying net neutrality enforcement would violate the First Amendment rights of ISPs. A year-long moratorium was introduced, holding up further legislation until the spring of 2006, and the concept of regulated network neutrality was left dangling precariously.

How will your life be affected if net neutrality regulations are defeated? Your favorite search engines might work slower. Your ISP will offer varying qualities of service, allowing the search engine that’s paid them off to run faster. You may be told you can’t have more than two computers on your home network. E-mail will arrive late, sometimes not at all. Web sites with helpful information will vanish. You will be turned away from familiar music download sites and steered to higher-priced venues. AOL might allow surcharge-paying junk mail to override your spam filter.

In the spring of 2006, things began to heat up with the introduction of the Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Act. As usual, the legislation’s title proclaimed good intentions, but its real purpose was sinister. It actually wanted to create tiers of access to the Internet. With the approval of an Internet caste system, Congress has opened the way for hierarchical and abusive business practices. Telecoms will favor their own content and services over those of their competitors.

Net neutrality’s biggest, baddest opponents are AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, who all seek to solidify the symbiotic relationship between business, government and the military. To further their agenda, the telecoms have set up “astroturf” groups—bogus grassroots organizations in populist masks. Groups like Hands Off the Internet, DontRegulate.org and TV4US are merely cool-sounding phonies that have even fooled pro-net-neutrality sites into giving them screen real estate. These tools of the enemy claim that the Internet should be free from all regulation, which sounds good.

What these groups actually want is government deregulation of the corporations that will control the content for everybody else. While corporations reward their cronies with perks like faster transmission speeds and prominent portal placement, users will pay more money for worsening service. Internet providers want to carve up the information superhighway and turn it into a series of toll roads so they can be the gatekeepers. “Pay up,” they demand, “or be banished to the slow lane…the shoulder…the ditch.”

The telecoms sell the idea that net neutrality is a liberal plot to let the government take over the Internet and control content and prices. But this is exactly what the telecoms want to do! They claim a First Amendment right to not promote speech they disagree with—but free speech rights are for citizens, not corporations.

Not everyone likes government regulation, but in this case, legislation is inevitable. Since the original COPE Act failed to be that legislation, a number of bills, counterbills and amendments have wended their way through various Congressional committees. Each time, it becomes more likely that there won’t be one big, all-inclusive decision on net neutrality. Instead, the most likely scenario is an ongoing series of challenges. The telecoms will be allowed free rein until one of them goes too far, at which time FCC Chairman Martin’s “case-by-case” solution will kick in. But even if the corporate giants lose the first round, we can be sure they will be back for another try.

The Save the Internet coalition demands an outcome that is meaningful, enforceable, democratic and cooperative. It calls for unhampered communication and commerce—a level playing field. There is a way to make the telecoms act in the public interest, and it begins on Capitol Hill. As the Democrats take over Congress, we need to be vigilant in promoting laws that grant equal treatment to data, users, applications and services. It is a new era of communication, and markets need to be supported, not distorted, by the global network.

Millions of Americans get their news from the Internet daily. In cyberspace the telecoms wield their power undetected. We need all the safeguards we can get.

Based in Southern California, Marc Madow first experienced free speech activism when discharged by the Navy for criticizing the Vietnam War. He wrote Pikes Peak Race to the Clouds, was American correspondent for the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport and made the documentary film The Rhythm of Venice Beach. Currently, Madow is Content Producer for the alternative news and opinion Web site Earthblog.net.


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