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FCC sends dirty joke to email list

In an ironic mishap, the Federal Communications Commission--which monitors the airwaves for what it considers obscene and indecent language--forwards a dirty joke to its external email list.

Shock jock Howard Stern should get a good laugh out of this one.

In an ironic mishap, the Federal Communications Commission--which monitors the airwaves for what it considers obscene and indecent language--today forwarded a dirty joke to subscribers of its external email list.

Anyone can sign up for the FCC's Daily Digest Mailing List, which includes a synopsis of commission orders, news releases, speeches, calls for public comment, and other information.

Today, however, an employee sent a joke to the list. Although the joke doesn't contain any of the infamous "seven dirty words," per se, it is an explicit narrative tale about nuns confessing their past sexual exploits before they can enter the gates of heaven.

About two hours after the joke was sent out, an apology followed.

"It has come to our attention that a highly offensive joke was inadvertently transmitted earlier today to the Daily Digest subscribers," Joy Howell, director of public affairs for the FCC, wrote in an email message sent to subscribers today.

"While accidental, the transmission was completely inappropriate and inexcusable," she continued. "Appropriate disciplinary action is being taken. In the meantime, we offer our profuse apologies to our Daily Digest subscribers."

The agency doesn't police Net content, so it hasn't broken its own regulations. But the commission does reprimand radio and TV stations for broadcasting language that "depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs."

Moreover, the FCC's mistake represents a growing problem in the workplace.

Seventy percent of U.S. employees say they have received personal, adult-oriented email while at work, while 64 percent say they have been sent "politically incorrect" or offensive email, according to a study released in February by market research firm NFO Worldwide.

As a result, government agencies and the private sector alike are starting to crack down on employees who play computer games, look up sports scores, loiter on pornographic sites, or send "offensive" email.

In Virginia, for example, it is illegal for state employees to use their computers to access any "sexually explicit communication."

Many firms also include email in their sexual harassment policies, prohibiting the sending of messages--or jokes like the one sent from the FCC--that could fall under federal and state statutes.