Swearing on Television

This thread asks for peoples’ opinions regarding swearing on television primetime cable.
Now, this is yet another topic I thought I knew more about than I actually did. What are the basic rules regarding swearing on television? Are they imposed by the stations or by the government? I am particularly intersted in policies here in the United States, but would also like to here from folks in other countries.

In the US, television standards are self-regulating. The broadcast networks are generally more strict than regular cable channels, and pay channels can get away with pretty much whatever they want, as they have no advertisers to scare away.

The Federal Communications Commission regulates broadcast television and radio in the United States. While only obscenity can be barred under constitutional law in general speech circumstances, the F.C.C. has asserted the authority to also regulate “indecency” on air and it occasionally hands out fines on that basis.

FCC fines for content are extremely uncommon, though. Most of the time, when the FCC issues a fine, it’s for some obscure regulatory reason, like showing too many ads or failing to properly archive public complaint letters.

The FCC goes on the accepted legal principle of “I know it when I see it.” :slight_smile:

Technically, no swear words are officially banned. You can say whatever you want, as long as no one complains to the FCC. Once a complaint is made, though, you’re investigated and can be fined.

Most networks have a “standards and practices” division that determines what they’ll allow you to say. Shows are required to show scripts to them, and the rules can be pretty arcane (you can use “asshole” on certain shows, but not others, and you may be limited to the number of times you can use it).

Also, the reason why cable channels are more relaxed with swearing and more adult themes is because broadcsast tv stations are not “invited” into your house (you can plug in a tv with an antenna and get them.)

But you must pay for cable, so you are “inviting” this swearing and adult themes into your house. Don’t know if this adds anything relevant, i just thought i would throw in my two cents.

There was an news bit recently about Bono dropping the F-bomb on live broadcast TV (the Golden Globes IIRC). To the suprise of many the FCC said it was okay because it was used as an adjective as opposed to a verb or noun. They said since it wasn’t used in a scatalogical or sexual sense there would be no sanctions.

You are probably right, RChuck, but there seems to be no ‘asshole’ limit on NYPD Blue.

In the afternoons it’s often bleeped out - even on cable - but at night, they go full bore, with stuff like “You ain’t got dick!”, masturbatory signs, “Screw you!”, etc., but, curiously, never any “Shit!” as far as I can tell.

There’s one episode - which was recently rerun - in which Andy and Lt. Fancy get into a heated argument, the climax of which has Andy giving Fancy the THUMB - not the middle finger as the scene cried out for.

Sipowitz can make jerk-off motions but he must not flip the bird. Go figure.

Comedy Central showed South Park - Bigger Longer and Uncut uncensored several times this summer. I watched part of it and they allowed everything to be shown/heard.

Comedy Central showed South Park - Bigger Longer and Uncut uncensored several times this summer. I watched part of it and they allowed everything to be shown/heard.

That’s against FCC regulations?

Quick, tell me how I report them – most of the stations around here need to be reported for this!

I don’t think there are any effective regulations on this any more. I’d like to see a cite if there are.

Here is one from 1999. I couldn’t find anything more recent on the internet, but I recall reading about such enforcement actions since then.

Well you wanted replies from other countries so I thought you’d like to hear from the UK.

We have rules regarding what can be shown or said at different times of day with a “watershed” of 9pm when you can move from family programming to other more adult themes. However you can’t get away with sticking the opening scene from Basic Instinct on uncut at 9pm! You have to wait until 10 or 11 before it can get that strong (it’s not so stringent on cable or satellite but the 9pm rule still applies other than on pay per view which can show slightly stronger things during the day but again is limited).

I’ve also noticed that words over here can be used that aren’t in US programming like c*nt, however you have the Simpsons saying bastard all the time which just isn’t done on tv over here.

The system is policed by an independent body set up by the government and the tv companies which mostly respond to complaints. On occassion they force tv stations to show apologies!

Similar on radio as well so we don’t get people like Howard Stern and most commercial stations bleep out any offensive words (no matter what time of day or night) with only the BBC and some of the more progressive stations taking risks (like playing the full version of Stan or leaving the use of b*tch in Pink’s just like a bill).

Anyway hope my insight into the uk was useful.

Sorry meant to type pill not bill at the end there!

In the US, the FCC will also allow swearing, even repeated swearing, if it’s in an interview/documentary format. I have a hazy recollection of Diane Sawyer interviewing Charles Manson and he kept repeatedly calling her a “bitch”. When the networks played the footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Centers, you could hear the amateur photographers swearing in disbelief. Things like that are allowed.

Interesting about “bastard” in the U.K. Here in the U.S. it’s hardly even considered an indecency. Our “worst” words have to do with sexual practices, body parts, and scatological terms. “Bastard” doesn’t fit any of those.

Strangely enough, “damn” is usually allowed to air uncensored, but “goddamn” is almost always bleeped (at least the “god” part anyway).

Very true, ascenray. Even Comedy Central, which allows “shit” and “fuck” late at night, will beep “goddamn.”

The Federal Communications Commission ruled in October that the “F word,” used as an adjective with the “ing” ending by U2 singer Bono during the live telecast of the Golden Globe awards ceremony in January, is not obscene language because Bono was not using it sexually but rather to enhance the word “brilliant.” And two weeks later, Texas’s 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that making the well-known middle-finger gesture is not illegal because it is not so provocative these days as to incite immediate violence. [St. Petersburg Times-Cox News, 10-14-03] [Houston Chronicle, 10-15-03]

I must say that I am genuinely surprised at the recent uttering of the word “asshole” on radio and television.

If KK has not heard “bastard” on UK TV, it will only be because they have chosen not to use it in the shows he watches. There is no taboo against using it. After the watershed time, you can hear pretty much anything.

I’ve never come across any UK show bleeping out words like “damn”, “goddamn”, “ass”, “bitch”.

And while I have never heard “shit” on its own on NYPD Blue, they have said “Bullshit” several times in the last couple of series.

Reminds me of that South Park episode, “It Hits the Fan”.

[Cop Show]Hey. . . you’ve got some shit on your face.[/Cop Show]

That episode was an all-time classic use of casual vulgarity. What I find really odd, is that in that episode, they used “shit” 160+ times, unbleeped. But they still bleep it out on other SP episodes.

Go figure.