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Clear Channel reaches $1.75 million settlement with FCC

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Clear Channel reaches $1.75 million settlement with FCC

  • Clear Channel Communications settled several broadcast indecency claims with the FCC, agreeing to pay the largest fine in commission history and to adopt internal quality-control policies.

June 11, 2004 — Clear Channel Communications agreed to a $1.75 million settlement last week with the Federal Communications Commission to resolve three proposed fines for “indecent” broadcasts and to terminate another 10 ongoing investigations into allegations of on-air indecency. The settlement represents the largest indecency fine in FCC history.

Along with monetary payment, the company promised to suspend or terminate employees found violating FCC indecency standards. The settlement also includes training for on-air personalities and employees who make programming decisions, and the adding of time delays to broadcasts.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell noted the importance of the settlement but acknowledged the danger of government involvement in content regulation. “Even where well intended, in our desire, for instance to protect children from indecent broadcasts, encroachments on content can have adverse affects on the public interest,” Powell said in a statement. “Government actions to quell protected speech can have the unintended consequence of depriving the public of a speaker’s artistic, literary, scientific or political viewpoint.”

The FCC agreed to not pursue investigations into 27 indecency complaints against Clear Channel, and incorporated a preexisting $495,000 fine — imposed for an April 2003 Howard Stern broadcast in which he discussed anal sex — into the settlement.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein dissented in part to the settlement. He wrote, “Before the Commission enters into a settlement that seeks to resolve all pending matters involving a company’s indecency compliance, it should have conducted at least preliminary investigations of those matters to understand the full extent of the possible violations and the suitability of the remedy.” He said, “It’s no threat to the First Amendment to, at a minimum, do some measure of investigation when we receive public complaints seeking to enforce a law that Congress tasked to us and that the courts have upheld under the First Amendment.”

Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio broadcasting company, has been the target of much FCC action over the past four months. The settlement comes on the heels of a $755,000 indecency fine Clear Channel paid in February as a result of its “Bubba the Love Sponge” radio program. Clear Channel fired the Love Sponge, Florida DJ Todd Clemm.

In addition to firing Clemm, Clear Channel dropped Stern’s show — owned by Infinity Broadcasting — from all of its stations, fired three on-air personalities who have raised indecency concerns, and adopted a zero-tolerance policy for radio hosts who skirt indecency laws.

“The Congress and the FCC are even beginning to look at revoking station licenses,” Clear Channel President John Hogan told the trade publication Broadcasting and Cable this week. “That’s a risk we’re just not willing to take.”

The settlement comes at a time when some legislators are pushing for stronger government sanctions on indecent. The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act was passed by House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority in March; it has yet to be scheduled for debate in the Senate.


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