#87 - Just What Is Offensive Language Regarding Amateur Radio?
I often hear comments about "offensive language" being banned on amateur radio, but no one can ever say exactly what such "offensive language" is, not even the Federal Communications Commission themselves who are supposedly the ones banning the language.
So, lets take a look at what the FCC rules actually say regarding amateur radio:
§97.113 Prohibited transmissions.
(4) Music using a phone emission except as specifically provided elsewhere in this section; communications intended to facilitate a criminal act; messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning, except as otherwise provided herein; obscene or indecent words or language; or false or deceptive messages, signals or identification.
Ok, so apparently the FCC considers "obscene or indecent words or language" to be bad and are not to be used on amateur radio, yet, it does not articulate what "obscene or indecent words or language" actually is, and therein lies the whole problem.
This is a question that has been asked for decades and has been challenged numerous times successfully by cable television stations and others in court. The FCC never has published a list of specific words or phrases that they consider to be obscene or indecent, and because of that fact, the courts rule against them every single time.
ALL SPEECH is protected under the First Amendment, yes, even speech that you consider to be objectionable, obscene, or indecent. Actually, if it were not for objectionabe language, there would not be a need for the First Amendment at all.
The intent of the First Amendment is to protect a person from retaliation from the government for them speaking their mind, which seems to be exactly what this rule by the FCC is trying to do. They leave you with the impression that if you say something that they feel might be obscene or indecent, they will strip you of your Amateur Radio operator's license, however this is NOT the case as we shall see.
Not one single time has anyone's amateur radio operator's license ever been revoked because of their speech, and that is because that speech is protected by the First Amendment and the FCC knows this. They are aware of their limitations under the law, and they do not overstep those limits.
Those limits have been pointed out to the FCC on numerous occasion over the years by the lower courts, and similar First Amendment cases have been taken to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) which has always ruled against the government when it comes to an infringement of speech by the federal government. Even though this exact situation has not come up in front of the SCOTUS, similar situations involving television and other forms of broadcast media being censored with threats of licensure revocation have.
One consistant thread in all of the rulings is that in order for the government to consider certain language to be obscene or indecent, they need to furnish a list of such words or language so that the licensees are forewarned. To this date the FCC has still never produced such a list.
Yes, plenty of people have had their licenses revoked, but never because of their speech. Those revocations were due to things like operating out of bands, illegal power output, maliscious interference with other radio services, etc., but never in the history of the amateur radio license has anyone in the United States ever had their license revoked siimply because of their language.
Just because you may not like a particular word or phrase, does not automatically make it obscene or indecent. What may be objectionable to you may not be objectionable to everyone else. Words are just that, words. They can not hurt you. They can not draw blood or cause any form of deformity or harm to you, they are merely a part of our everyday language.
If someone says something on the radio that you do not agree with, there is a simple solution, change the frequency or turn your radio off. If you listen to the person and then become enraged because of the language they are using, or something they said, then it is completely your fault for allowing it to happen. No one other than you forced you to listen to what the person was saying.
Should we use language that other people may find objectionable or offensive on the radio? Personally I feel that we should have respect for others and for ourselves and show such respect in the language that we use, however that language is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution which I swore an oath to defend. Just because I no longer wear a uniform did not relieve me of that obligation.
We may not like it, but putting up with things that we may not like is a part of life. I may not like the color of shirt that you are wearing and may find it offensive, but that does not give me the right to force you to stop wearing it. You have the right to wear whatever color clothing you wish as a freedom of expression, again protected by the First Amendment.
Let's stop getting all wrapped up in worrying about what someone else says and start worrying more about our own lives and what we are doing. If you have time to be worrying about what someone else is doing, you clearly have free time that you could spend helping others instead.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73