Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a broadcast of patently offensive words dealing with sex and excretion may be regulated because of its content.


Affirmed. The FCC’s sanctions were upheld.


A New York radio station aired George Carlin’s monologue, “Filthy Words.” Carlin spoke of the words that could not be said on the public airwaves. Although the station warned listeners before its broadcast that the monologue included “sensitive language which might be regarded as offensive to some,” the FCC censured the station for violating FCC regulations which prohibited broadcasting indecent material.

Importance of Case

Because of the indecent nature of the broadcast, the FCC could regulate it without offending the 1st Amendment. The government had important interests in shielding children from potentially offensive material, and ensuring that unwanted speech does not enter one’s home. To be subject to regulation, the words in the broadcast need not be obscene, they only need to be “indecent.” Relevant factors in determining whether to invoke sanctions include audience, medium, time of day, and method of transmission.

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