As we continue our ongoing look at the actions of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), we find that the organization is undergoing an enforcement wave of its policies to protect consumers and cracking down on broadcast companies and their programming. Radio companies are being fined heavily for on-air content considered unacceptable, obscene and offensive. In turn, radio personalities are being fired with many companies imposing “zero tolerance” policies.

With so much enforcement activity, the state of some radio stations is one of fear. Companies are afraid of losing licenses and DJs are censoring themselves for fear of crossing the line and winding up unemployed.

Here’s the latest update on the FCC’s crusade against broadcast indecency:

  • August 12, 2004 — Emmis Communications agreed to pay $300,000 to resolve indecency complaints the FCC had been investigating
  • July 22, 2004 — Tommy Smith, longtime Little Rock morning radio personality was fired by employer Clear Channel Communications — “zero tolerance” on radio indecency was the reason given
  • June 22, 2004 — By a 99-1 margin, the US Senate approved an amendment that dramatically increases a radio company’s fines from $27,500 to $275,000 for a single indecency incident? and slaps an $11,000 fine on-air talent, for a maximum of $3 million a day per on-air personality
  • June 9, 2004 — Clear Channel Communications paid the U.S. Treasury $1.75 million for all indecency charges and other general complaints by listeners “
  • May 13, 2004 — Two Portland morning DJs, “Marconi” and “Tiny” were fired for airing the audio portion of the Nick Berg execution in Iraq adding musical accompaniment and laughter to the horrific incident.

In fact, that last incident has the FCC looking at broadening the term “indecency” because technically airing the audio from the Berg beheading the way the KNRK-FM morning show did, doesn’t fall under the FCC’s definition of indecency — “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive, as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” But, the FCC says, tougher enforcement and stiffer fines, may have awakened the conscience of the station’s owner, Entercom Radio, to police itself and take matters into its own hands, and that’s the result it hopes to have on other radio companies.

With the presidential election in November, where do the candidates stand on the issue of radio indecency?

President Bush supports tougher fines. The FCC, under the Bush Administration, has levied large fines against broadcast companies breaking indecency laws.

Senator John Kerry also supports tougher fines. As a member of the Sub-Committee on Communications, he voted to toughen standards of decency and punish stations, via fines or loss of license, that don’t abide by it.

So, it appears the FCC has the green light to keep the pressure on and continue to “clean up” an industry that some believe has pushed beyond the boundaries of good taste into indecent programming. Stay tuned for more updates in future newsletters.