FCC adopts form letter to handle talk show complaints
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The FCC in early May created a form letter to deal with most complaints about “strong” and controversial language by talk show hosts. The FCC said the letter reiterates its stance that expression of views that do not involve a “clear and present danger of serious substantial evil” is protected by the First Amendment and may not be suppressed by the Commission.
Shortly after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and President Clinton’s criticism of “loud and angry” talk show hosts encouraging violence, the FCC composed the letter to deal with the current and potential influx of general complaints against talk show hosts. It states that “the Commission is prohibited from involving itself in the content of specific programs or otherwise engaging in activities that might be regarded as program censorship” and that “the Commission cannot direct broadcasters to refrain from presenting the kind of program material … described.”
President Clinton, without mentioning talk radio specifically, criticized the “loud and angry voices in America” for creating paranoia over the airwaves. “They spread hate. They leave the impression, by their very words, that violence is acceptable,” Clinton said.
Talk show hosts balked at Clinton’s comments and defended their right to voice their views on air. At the center of the controversy was G. Gordon Liddy, whose repeated on-air instructions on how to shoot a federal officer (“They’ve got a big target on there, ATF. Don’t shoot at that because they’ve got a vest on underneath that. Head shots, head shots.”) were given wide media coverage.
The agency has received three dozen complaints against talk show hosts since Clinton’s remarks.
The FCC ruled on a complaint against Liddy for his “shoot to the head” comment in January 1995. Political Programming Branch Chief Milton O. Gross responded that in the absence of evidence of a “clear and present danger of imminent violence which may warrant interfering with speech, we are constrained to take any action on your request.” (FCC Complaint #9490065)