04 October 2007


Seen in a Shenzhen Bookstore

According to the New York Times, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of a San Francisco court ruling that Allen Ginsburg’s Howl was not obscene.

Yet Ginsberg, who died in 1997, was heard online and not on the New York radio station WBAI-FM, affiliated with the Pacifica network, because the station, according to an article on Wednesday, feared that by broadcasting “Howl” it could run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission’s interpretation of indecency and incur bankrupting fines.

Janet Coleman, WBAI’s arts director, said that when the idea of airing the poem to test the law was proposed, “I said, ‘Yes, let’s try it.’” The radio station has a history of championing the First Amendment, having broadcast the comedian George Carlin’s “seven dirty words” routine that resulted in a 1978 Supreme Court ruling on indecency. But after several harsh F.C.C. rulings in 2004 — against CBS for a glimpse of Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime show and against Fox for curse words used during the Billboard Music Awards — “our lawyer felt it was too risky,” Ms. Coleman said. The commission can impose “draconian fines,” she said, that could put WBAI out of business.

Listen to the Pacifica broadcast “Howl Against Censorship” online, where, for now, the FCC can’t touch it.



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