‘Shock Jocks’ Facing Proposed Fines

Rhett Pardon
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing fines against many of the nation’s major radio companies for carrying well-known “shock jocks,” according to a report.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that amid the widening and increasingly politicized campaign to clean up the nation’s airwaves, more than 10 cases are being finalized.

One target is Howard Stern, who has been repeating all week on his radio program that his days are over.

“This is what’s going on in your country,” Stern said Friday on his radio show. “I will be the sacrificial lamb. I will be thrown off the air.”

The FCC is deciding on penalties against Viacom Inc.’s Infinity Broadcasting, his employer. Also facing further scrutiny are Emmis Communations Inc. and Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest radio owner, which last week took Stern’s show off six of its radio stations and fired Florida radio host Todd Clem, known as “Bubba the Love Sponge.”

Stern said his inside sources at the FCC have told him that he’s going to be fined for dialogue on a three-year-old show.

“I will never be given my day in court,” Stern said. “There is a nightmare going on and I’m about to be served up with my head on a platter because all I wanted to do was make people laugh.”

The FCC, given renewed congressional pressure and amid criticism of lax enforcement of its policies, has stepped up its review of the indecency complaints it receives.

The FCC’s new initative to go after broadcasters was ignited by this year’s Super Bowl broadcast in which entertainer Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed during the halftime show to the embarrassment of broadcaster CBS, a Viacom unit, its affiliates, and the regulatory agency.

The Wall Street Journal reported that FCC Chairman Michael Powell wrote in a letter to Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.) this week that there were more than two dozen cases pending at the FCC at the end of last year that are in the final stages of investigation, and that he “anticipated enforcement action in all or most of these cases within the next few months.”

Officials told the paper that the agency is facing statute-of-limitations issues on one or two of the pending cases if it doesn’t wrap them up quickly.

A House subcommittee this week overwhelmingly passed a bill that would sharply increase the FCC’s maximum indecency fine to $500,000 per incident, up from the current $27,500 for each station and would include a “three strikes and you’re out” provision that would revoke radio and television station licenses for three offenses.

The FCC fines stations, not individuals, for violations of its standards. Under the guidelines, “indecent” material generally refers to broadcasts containing sexual or excretory references that are aired between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In related news, the FCC will not impose what could have been multi-million dollar fines against the NBC television network or its affiliates in connection with an expected reversal of an earlier indecency decision.

The regulatory agency plans to reverse an earlier finding that singer Bono’s use of a vulgarity during the NBC broadcast of the 2003 Golden Globe awards was not indecent.

A report said that decision could come as early as next week, but the commission will not fine NBC, a unit of General Electric Co., or its affiliates.

Stern, who on Friday urged his listeners to vote President Bush out of office as well as rallying listeners to mount what he calls a “Million Moron March” on the nation’s capital, said that the flurry of fines to broadcasters will effectively create a chilling effect on the media.

“Journalists and people in the media are laughing at me because they think this isn’t going to affect them,” said Stern, whose show is also taped and airs on the cable network E! Entertainment Television, majority-owned by cable giant Comcast Corp. “Everyone’s having a good laugh but there’s got to be a payback. And I’m running out of time."