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FCC commissioner vows to clean-up airwaves

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Feb 15, 2002    

FCC commissioner vows to clean-up airwaves

  • A member of the Federal Communications Commission told the broadcast community to stop pushing the limits on indecency or face new pressures for change from the federal government.

One of the newest members of the Federal Communications Commission took a cue from a former commissioner who recently left and warned television and radio industries that, if they don’t clean up their acts, the government may do it for them.

In a guest editorial column in USA Today on Feb. 4, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps called upon radio and TV stations to curb indecency and adopt a new “voluntary code of conduct,” or face possible government action.

Copps, who became a member of the FCC in May 2001, asked radio, broadcast and cable “chieftains to announce by Easter that they will craft a new code this year.” Easter falls on March 31.

Copps said television and radio broadcasters are in a “race to the bottom,” that they “troll the depths of decadence” in order to maximize their profits and top their competitors. He called the current system for policing the airwaves “ineffective,” conceding, however, that the FCC does not do all it can to enforce laws already in place. These include FCC regulations that bar stations from airing indecent content when children are likely to be tuning in.

The sentiments echo those of Copps’s predecessor, Gloria Tristani, who also called on the FCC for more enforcement against indecent programming. While Tristani was in office, the FCC issued a report in April 2001 providing guidelines for what the agency considered material inappropriate for airing on TV or radio.

The FCC has had a hard time defining indecency, as exemplified by the recent case in which a Colorado radio station was threatened with a $7000 fine for playing an edited version of rapper Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.” The FCC has since retracted the fine.

But the current trend within the FCC , spearheaded by Chairman Michael Powell, is deregulation, and not necessarily the type of control and strict maintenance Copps is advocating.

While Copps appears to be the only current commissioner supporting such content guidelines, his suggestion that radio stations keep tapes of their broadcasts so complaints can be better handled has not been rejected by the industry, according to Dennis Wharton of the National Broadcasters Association.

“For stations that carry programs which may be considered objectionable,” they might want to consider it, Wharton said. However, he “disagrees strongly” with Copps’s “race to the bottom” characterization, saying that “our content on broadcast TV is fairly mild compared to cable.”

Copps is hoping the entire industry voluntarily adopts a well-defined policy. Otherwise, it may see “more drastic remedies in the future,” he wrote.


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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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