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Television, radio networks get tough on indecency

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Television, radio networks get tough on indecency

  • Executives at CBS, Fox and Clear Channel Communications are ramping up efforts to regulate the decency of their programming; Clear Channel fired a Florida DJ and suspended its broadcasts of the “Howard Stern Show.”

Feb. 26, 2004 — Several of the nation’s largest broadcasting companies have taken aggressive action to bar indecent speech in the wake of public outcry over the Super Bowl halftime show and to educate the public about existing filtering technologies.

The Federal Communications Commission sent a letter last month to the four major TV stations and the National Association of Broadcasters — on the heels of a racy Super Bowl halftime show aired live on CBS — urging them to voluntarily take action to prevent future indecency violations.

Clear Channel Communications, the largest owner of radio stations in the U.S., said yesterday that it has suspended the “Howard Stern Show” from the six stations it owns that broadcast the shock jock. That announcement came one day after Clear Channel fired Florida disc jockey “Bubba the Love Sponge,” whose radio show earned the company a fine of $775,000 last month for airing sexually explicit content.

Stern’s show was banned in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Rochester, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Louisville.

John Dunbar, director of the Telecommunications Project at the Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan profit specializing in government accountability located in Washington, D.C., said broadcasters had little choice but to further regulate themselves.

“If the White House is serious about this, and if Congress is serious about this,” Dunbar said, “some of these big media companies are going to get very nervous because it might come back and hurt their bottom line.”

Fox and television manufacturer RCA said on Feb. 18 that they have begun marketing the V-chip, technology that allows parents to program their televisions to block out certain programming. The V-chip is installed in all new TV sets, a federal requirement since January 2000.

Fox News Channel will also devote an hour on the issue of broadcast indecency — in a format and on a date to be determined — the company said.

CBS, which has received substantial criticism for its live telecast of the Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show — including the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast — said it will air public service announcements urging parents to monitor their children’s TV viewing. The company, which is owned by Viacom, further pledged to go “top to bottom” in reviewing the indecency rules.

Clear Channel’s recent efforts are clearly the most sweeping, including a “zero tolerance” policy toward indecency. Under the new regulations the company announced this week, disc jockeys will be suspended at the mere accusation of indecency. Company-wide training sessions will be held on identifying potentially indecent programming, and all new employees will have provisions written into their contracts explaining the zero tolerance policy.

The suspension of the Stern show, which is owned by Infinity Broadcasting, came following an on-air interview with Rick Saloman, who appeared in a homemade sex tape with socialite Paris Hilton that was released on the Internet in November. Stern and Saloman engaged in graphic detail in discussing the tape.

John Hogan, president of Clear Channel Radio, said in a news release yesterday that the broadcast did not meet the company’s newly revised decency standards.

“Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content, and Howard Stern’s show blew right through it,” Hogan said. He later called the show “vulgar, offensive and insulting.”

Dunbar said some of the media’s recent action may be too little, too late to prevent an overreaction by the government. A proposed congressional bill to increase the minimum indecency fine from $27,500 per incident to $275,000 is not a bad idea, he said, but an FCC proposal to revoke broadcast licenses after three fines is “pretty radical.”

“I strongly suggest that people watch out for what is going on here, because when you see this kind of uprising it tends to have unintended circumstances,” Dunbar said. “It is very difficult to regulate speech, because you are bumping into the First Amendment.”


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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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