March 15, 2004

Radio, Free America! (please?)

Indecency laws have come to the forefront of the news ever since the "NippleGate" scandal shocked the nation for a whole second and a half. Personally, I'm confused by the double-standards of the FCC. So we saw most of a boob on a football game. I've flipped to some third-rate entertainment news shows last year who showed a starlet's Playboy spread with only three strategically-placed blurs covering her up, so how is that any different? Probably because 200 total viewers watch Access Entertainment Hollywood E! News, but that's beside the point.

Now, in the midst of all this fuss about protecting our children from crude radio content, the House has passed a motion to increase the fines for "indecency" to $500,000 per incident, for both broadcasting companies AND individuals. This is up from the previous $27,500 fine for Broadcasters and $11,000 for individuals. If this measure passes the Senate, the FCC would have the power to fine half a million dollars if anything that they deem "indecent" passes over the airwaves.

So what constitutes indecency, you might ask? Good question, and the FCC does not have an answer. The only clue that they give is the ambiguous reference to "offensive material that refers to sexual and excretory functions." So the entire spectrum of radio broadcasters are effectively on "Double Secret Probation," where the FCC can shut stations down for any reason at all. "Sorry Mr. DJ, I distinctly heard you say 'crap' when you were giving your review of 'Agent Cody Banks 2', so cough up the $500 large..." How, may I ask, is a rule supposed to be effective or hold any power, if the people it's supposed to govern don't know what the rule IS?

If this whole situation causes a bit of Deja-Vu, you may recall the Supreme Court Decision in the past decade that called for a ban on Pornography. After months on the slate, they couldn't say definitively what was or was not Pornography, but former Justice Potter Stewart's infamous phrase "I'll know it when I see it" was still being used. Personally, I was not at ease with the idea of Supreme Court Justices sitting around all day in small video rooms, wearing large, flowing robes, "reviewing" material that may or may not be Pornography.

*Knock Knock* "You done in there, Rehnquist?" "I'm combing my hair!! I mean, Uh...Still under Review!"

Point two, this $500,000 fine now can be levied against individual broadcasters, not just the Broadcasting companies. This is the true beauty of the bill. Let's take a TOTALLY FICITIONAL SCENARIO. Let's say CleanChannel Communications hires a DJ named "Billy the Love Loofah," who is known for his crude antics. CleanChannel doesn't care about the content because Billy has a big draw with the listeners, which equates to lots of advertising revenue for them. One day, Billy performs a musical tribute to his inflatable Uma Thurman doll, and the FCC Decides to shut him down. Under the proposed senate measure, Billy can be personally fined up to $500,000 (easily a couple of years salary). CleanChannel, on the other hand, would be off the hook, free wash it's hands of the situation and make PR statements like "We were shocked to learn of Mr. Love Loofah's indecent commentary, and we have summarily fired him. His brand of off-color humor and views do not represent those of CleanChannel, and he has no place in our decent corporation."

If this piece of election-year grandstanding passes the Senate, it will usher in the Orwellian Age of Radio, a mere 20 years late. Honestly, this whole "decency" plight of the FCC is just another attempt by Mr. Shrub to cast himself as the defender of all that is wholesome and good, like some christian superhero. With this act, he's defending our children from...stuff that most of us like to listen to in the first place. And as a nice side effect, this will place the FCC as the head of a tidy sum as a protection racket: "Wow, you've got a nice radio station here, good listener base, nice advertising revenue streams... It would be a SHAME, if something would, you know HAPPEN to it..."

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