FCC Cracks Down on Indecency: But Do Fines Go Far Enough?

FCC Cracks Down on Indecency: But Do Fines Go Far Enough?

Pro-family groups are calling the decision of the Federal Communications Commission to level heavy fines against major broadcasters who violate standards of decency a good beginning in the battle to clean up public airwaves -- but some say more must be done.

The FCC has hit Clear Channel Radio Stations in Florida with a $755,000 fine for broadcast indecency. The commission has ordered the radio giant to pay for 26 apparent violations of indecency standards by Florida-based disc jockey Todd Clem, who calls himself "Bubba the Love Sponge."

According to the Washington Post, the syndicated DJ engaged in graphic and sexually explicit discussion on his show. Clem is accused of describing various sexual acts in patently offensive ways during seven morning broadcast segments that aired on four stations in July, November, and December 2001. The FCC recommended giving Clear Channel the maximum allowable penalty of $27,500 for each of the 26 alleged violations.

Associated Press reports that Clear Channel has also been fined $40,000 for record-keeping violations. The combined penalties make this the second-largest fine ever assessed by the FCC. The company has 30 days to pay or appeal.

And in another indecency case, the FCC has proposed stiff fines against another company, Young Broadcasting of San Francisco, for its apparent broadcast of indecent material during a morning news show. The commission proposed the statutory maximum fine of $27,500 in that case, in which a guest on the show, wearing only a cape, allegedly exposed himself "accidentally." The FCC seemed to conclude that the station could have foreseen the accident, and the broadcast company was penalized accordingly.

A Mere Slap on the Wrist?

Many pro-family advocates are applauding the FCC for cracking down on broadcasters like Young and Clear Channel. But in the case of the radio giant, at least two of the federal regulators feel the company got off light.

Republican commissioner Kevin J. Martin suggested that Clem's broadcasts ought have been fined for each indecent word or phrase uttered, which would have added up to a fine of more than $1 million.

And Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps suggested in his dissenting opinion that a fine was not a serious enough punishment. He said the fine sent the message that even "egregious repeated violations will not result in revocation of a license. Rather, they will result only in a financial penalty that is merely a cost of doing business."

Randy Sharp, special projects director with the American Family Association, says fining Clear Channel is a good start that he hopes will send a message to broadcasters. But he agrees with Copps that more needs to be done.

The pro-family spokesman says public broadcasters are entrusted by the federal government to be good stewards of their media, and when they break that trust, there should be serious consequences. "It is time that radio stations be held accountable for what they air on public airwaves," he says.

For those who proceed to commit grave and repeated breaches of FCC indecency standards, Sharp says the next step should be start pulling broadcast licenses. He believes revoking a violator's right to broadcast would send a crystal-clear message, both to broadcasters and the public, that the Commission is serious about cleaning up the public airwaves.

Keeping Pressure on Regulators

Sharp urges parents and other concerned citizens to keep up the pressure on the federal agency. Although FCC Chairman Michael Powell has vowed he will push the five-member commission to overturn a recent ruling that an expletive uttered during a live NBC telecast last January was not indecent, some decency advocates may feel that the Commission's recent expressions of fervor may be coming a little late in the game, and that they have doubtless been influenced by increased scrutiny and negative publicity.

The FCC's action against Clear Channel was announced a day before a scheduled House subcommittee hearing on broadcast indecency and the FCC's enforcement record. Parents Television Council president Brent Bozell is slated to testify at that January 28 hearing, which is entitled "Can You Say That on TV?"

Last January the PTC launched a campaign to force the FCC to uphold its congressional mandate to enforce broadcast decency standards and has since raised questions about how seriously the agency has taken its job. The PTC and its 850,000 members have filed over 145,000 formal indecency complaints to the FCC over the last year.

The American Family Association claims in a press release that members of its web-based activist groups OneMillionMoms.com and OneMillionDads.com have generated well over 1.75 million e-mails to FCC commissioners and members of Congress calling for rigid enforcement of indecency laws.


American Family Association (http://www.afa.net)

Parents Television Council (http://www.parentstv.org)

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