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FCC commissioner condemns indecency on nation’s airwaves

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From the Spring 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 22.

From the Spring 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 22.

Michael Copps, one of the newest members of the Federal Communications Commission, recently warned radio and television broadcasters to clean up their acts or face possible government action.

In a guest editorial column appearing in USA Today on Feb. 4, Copps called upon “chieftains” of radio, broadcast and cable “to announce by Easter that they will craft a new code this year.” Easter fell on March 31, but the industry in late April had not responded. Copps threatened that if the industry does not voluntarily adopt new standards it could expect “more drastic remedies in the future.”

Copps, named to the FCC in May 2001, said television and radio broadcasters were in a “race to the bottom,” that they “troll the depths of decadence” in order to maximize profits and top their competitors. He called the current system for policing the airwaves “ineffective” and said that the FCC does not do all it can to enforce rules already in place. These include FCC regulations that bar stations from airing indecent content when children are likely to be tuning in.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has not endorsed Copps’ efforts.

But the current trend of deregulation within the FCC under Chairman Powell might not gel with Copps’s message of control and strict maintenance. The other problem concerns the FCC’s difficulty — in some cases — with defining indecency.

This is exemplified by the case in which a Colorado radio station was threatened with a $7,000 fine for playing an edited version of rapper Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.”

KKMG-FM was threatened with the fine in July of 2001 after a listener complained that, even though the expletives were muted, the meaning of the lyrics were still obvious.

The FCC has since retracted the fine, saying that, upon re-examining the song, it turned out not to be “patently offensive” and, thus, did not violate its rules. — KC