Fearing indecency laws, radio station broadcasts Ginsberg poem online
Posted On October 6, 2007
Fearing indecency laws, radio station broadcasts Ginsberg poem online – International Herald Tribune
Those who happened to click on Pacifica.org on Wednesday could hear Allen Ginsberg intoning, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” along with the rest of his classic poem “Howl.”
The occasion was the 50th anniversary of a court ruling that found the poem had “redeeming social importance” and was thus 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 in The San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, feared that by broadcasting “Howl” it could run afoul of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s interpretation of indecency and incur bankrupting fines.
Janet Coleman, WBAI’s arts director, said 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 FCC 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,” Coleman said. The commission can impose “draconian fines,” she said, that could put WBAI out of business.