Community Radio Fined for Indecency

  • Community Radio Fined for Indecency
    The Portland Indymedia Center reports that Community radio station KBOO in Portland, OR was fined by the FCC for airing a song the agency judged as indecent during the time of day when indecency is prohibited (between the hours of 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM). Click here to read the lyrics to the song in question, which is intended to be a woman’s response to misogynistic and sexist raps that nonetheless make claims to revolution.

    This is an excerpt of the FCC’s decision:
    The rap song “Your Revolution” contains unmistakable patently offensive sexual
    references. We have considered The KBOO FoundationÂ’s arguments concerning the context of
    this material. Specifically, the KBOO Foundation asserts that the rap song “Your Revolution”
    cannot be separated from its contemporary cultural context. In the alternative, The KBOO
    Foundation argues that even if context is limited to the song’s lyrics, “Your Revolution” is “a
    feminist attack on male attempts to equate political ‘revolution’ with promiscuous sex” and as
    such, is not indecent. However, considering the entire song, the sexual references appear to be
    designed to pander and shock and are patently offensive.

    Only a month and a half ago the FCC released its first every policy document that attempts to lend some degree of definition to the ever-elusive term ‘indecency,’ which it agreed to do in the course of settling a lawsuit filed over an indecency fine. Per FCC v. Pacifica, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC may ban indecent material during portions of the day when children are likely to listen, but must therefore also provide a so-called ‘free harbor’ where indecent material may be aired. The Fed’s new policy document makes clear that indecency is not simply limited to the so-called “Seven Dirty Words,” giving clearer examples of how discussion of sexual or excretory topics and acts can be considered indecent–which is what the FCC ruled in KBOO’s case.

    What’s interesting to note is that in the new indecency policy the FCC makes explicit that the agency only acts on complaints and does not indepdendently police the airwaves for indecency. In KBOO’s case, it was a listener complaint about four separate broadcasts that brought about the FCC fine for this one. Per Portland Indymedia, the show that aired the song in question, “is known for airing such music that speaks truth to the power of rap and hip-hop music, which is frequently demeaning to women. The FCC investigates stations when prompted by a complaint from a listener who has evidence. The listener is this case is a man who has had problems with Barnwell’s show for years.”

    It’s tempting to see this fine as an assault on community and progressive radio by the conservative Bush Administration, although I don’t think that is quite borne out by the facts. Instead, it seems clearer to me that a listener used the FCC to squelch sppech that he found offensive. Reading the song lyrics I can see why a man who feels threatened when women express and demonstrate their independence and power would be offended by it, but I fail to see how the song is “indecent,” since I also fail to see how it is intended to “pander and shock,” as the FCC claims. In fact, it appears to me that the song attacks the panderers–men who treat women simply as sexual objects–and is only shocks if you are shocked by a woman rejecting such treatment.

    Nonetheless, the fine does serve as a wake up call to community radio stations and a warning that it only takes one listener wishing to attack a message he doesn’t like, to bring about FCC scrutiny, and possibly a fine. While the new FCC indecency rules do provide greater guidance than ever before for stations to avoid an indecency fine, there is still a gray area where politics, sex, and power meet up. Whether anyone likes it or not, it looks like the practical solution right now is, “if in doubt, air it after 10:00 PM.” And maybe, it’s time for community radio listeners to barrage the FCC with complaints about the real corporate radio “shock jocks,” like Mancow and Bob & Tom (to name just two).

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