. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – Discussion Regarding Broadcasting And The First Amendment – Jan. 30, 1973 – NPR – Gordon Sound Sound Collection.
Coming during the time of the Supreme Court case known as The Seven Filthy Words, the issue of TV censorship in the area of news, the testing of boundaries with situation comedies and growing attention to the Watergate Scandal, the issue of just where the 1st Amendment of the Constitution stood with reference to Media was coming under scrutiny. Further testing came by way of Pacifica Radio’s WBAI airing uncensored, the infamous Seven Filthy Words You Can’t Say On The Air from George Carlin’s Occupation: Foole album in 1973. It resulted in the court case, The FCC vs.Pacifica.
The issue sparked much heated debate – what constituted 1st Amendment freedom and what constituted the airing of obscenities. It’s an issue you don’t hear all the much about today (with the exception of the Janet Jackson on-air wardrobe malfunction). But certainly the question of censorship and what constitutes censorable news or speech and what constitutes a 1st Amendment protection has come under scrutiny of late. The too-cosy relationship between media and corporate entities – the conscious effort to downplay news where it pertains to a Parent company of a media outlet has been under question for a while.
In 1973 we were just coming into the age of Deregulation – and this applied to media outlets. The tight restrictions put in place during the FCC era of the early 1930s were slowly being eroded in favor of conglomerates diversifying and buying up media in the form of newspapers, TV and Radio stations, often in the same market – the gradual erosion of the Fairness Doctrine which had been in place since 1949 was further evidence the Free press was coming under attack.
This discussion, dubbed Freedom Of The Press – was one of a lengthy series of panels conducted by the Center For The Study Of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California in January of 1973. It was part of their conference on Broadcasting and The First Amendment. It features Eric Sevareid of CBS News, former FCC Chairman Newton Minnow, Thomas Wolfe – head of Documentaries for ABC News, President of CBS News Richard Salant, Former General Counsel for the White House Office of Telecommunication Policy Antonin Scalia, Lord Richie Calder, Clifton Fadiman and many others.
The program goes some 90 minutes and covers a vast spectrum of issues in the area of Press Freedom as it applied to the world of 1973. The issues have dramatically changed over the years – the influence of the FCC has changed dramatically – in 1973 there was no such thing as The Internet – and Satellite communication was only in its infancy. Cable Television was just starting and The Big Three Networks held sway over much of America’s viewing and listening habits.
How things have changed.
Here is that panel, as broadcast on March 30, 1973 by NPR.
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