Steve Chapman

Nowadays, broadcast outlets are only one of many ways that people find news and entertainment. Most people get their over-the-air TV channels not over the air, but via cable or satellite transmissions. But because the FCC insists on clinging to its antiquated regulatory authority, words that may be used on Channel 31 are illegal on Channel 32.

The excuse is protecting impressionable youngsters from irreversible coarsening. Scalia and his colleagues rationalized the FCC action by saying that "it suffices to know that children mimic the behavior they observe -- or at least the behavior that is presented to them as normal and appropriate."

But in much of the world that modern children inhabit, that behavior is already regarded as normal and appropriate. Most grade-schoolers didn't learn the bad words they know from Cher. They learned them from peers, just as their parents and grandparents did. In most homes, they know better than to mimic that behavior within earshot of their parents, regardless of whether they see it on TV.

Without the FCC's vigilance, parents who want to shield their offspring from random F-bombs would have to monitor their TV viewing. But if they have cable or satellite service, they already have to do that. And their bigger challenge is supervising Junior and Sissy when they surf the Internet, which most families welcome into their homes even though its content is unregulated.

That's right. Amazing though it may sound, the World Wide Web is a means of mass communication that operates without federal censorship, relying on users to depend on their own judgment, deploy their own filters or simply take their chances. If that approach works for a new medium, maybe someday we could try it on an old one.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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