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Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Saturday, June 3, 2000

‘Obscene’ music
in public places

Question: I go to retail stores, gas stations, wherever and hear extremely obscene music playing. My daughter often is with me. I don't listen to that at home, so why can't I go to public places and not listen to that trash? I know you're probably going to say it has something to do with the First Amendment, but don't we have any rights as consumers?

Answer: You do have some rights, but that will probably not help you escape trashy lyrics on the airwaves. One man's art is another man's trash, etc.

The first thing to do, of course, is to let the business know what you think. If it doesn't respond, you can choose not to patronize that business.

In the meantime, the federal government differentiates between obscene speech, indecent speech and profanity.

Federal law prohibits the broadcasting of "obscene" programming and regulates the broadcasting of "indecent" language, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Obscene speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment and cannot be broadcast at any time. However, to be obscene, material must have all three of the following characteristics: an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Judging from what's seen and heard these days, obscenity is really in the eyes and ears of the beholder, notwithstanding the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's comment: "I know it when I see it."

Indecent speech, on the other hand, is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be outlawed entirely. The courts have upheld Congress' prohibition of indecent speech between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when there is "reasonable risk that children may be in the audience."

However, the U.S. Supreme Court on May 22 modified that restriction, ruling that it violated the free-speech rights of cable TV operators to show adult programming.

Indecent speech is defined as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities."

Meanwhile, profanity that does not fall within one or the other of those two categories is fully protected by the First Amendment and cannot be regulated.

Refrigerator help

To the person who asked if there was any company that would move a couple of broken refrigerators to the curb for pickup by the city's bulky item crew, please call Kokua Line. We received several responses from male readers who offered their services to your elderly aunt and uncle. And thank you to all the good Samaritans out there who offered to help.


To a Navy bus driver named Ed who changed my flat tire on May 10 at Pearl Harbor and also helped transport eight lost Taiwanese sailors to their destination. Ed, you are the spirit of aloha! -- No name


To the kind gentlemen of Hawaiian Electric for taking the time to help retrieve my house key after it fell through a manhole cover on Alakea Street downtown during lunch hour on April 28. They even smiled when they handed back my key. Such aloha. -- Ms. White

Need help with problems? Call Kokua Line at 525-8686,
fax 525-6711, or write to P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
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