FCC Crackdown on Indecency?

  • FCC Crackdown on Indecency?
    The FCC is at it again — this time the Commission has levied a fine against a Colorado Springs radio station for playing the Eminem song “The Real Slim Shady.” The twist here is that the fine is for playing the edited version of the song, with its rampant dirty words bleeped out. But that’s not good enough for the FCC, which says that the edited version of the song–supplied by Interscope records–nonetheless “contains unmistakable offensive sexual references.”

    This action comes on the heels of fine levied on Portland, OR community station KBOO a couple of weeks ago, for airing a feminist rap song that the Commission deemed indecent. All of this was preceded by the release of the first ever policy statement by the FCC on indecency enforcement. For the first time since the Supreme Court affirmed the ability of the FCC to regulate when so-called indecent material could be aired on radio more than twenty years ago (FCC v Pacifica), the FCC clarified what exactly might be considered indecent material, and gave concrete examples of broadcasts that it ruled were and were not indecent.

    Prior to this document there was a common assumption in the radio biz that indecency primarily amounted to the “seven dirty words,” and so the best way to avoid a fine was to avoid or bleep these words–which is what you have in the Eminem song. But a read through the new indecency policy makes clear that this alone is not what makes indecency, and, interestingly, simply having “dirty words” does not, in itself, make something indecent. The FCC explains that its criteria for indecency include: “(1) the
    explicitness or graphic nature of the description or depiction of sexual or excretory organs or activities;
    (2) whether the material dwells on or repeats at length descriptions of sexual or excretory organs or
    activities; (3) whether the material appears to pander or is used to titillate, or whether the material
    appears to have been presented for its shock value.”

    It would appear that after releasing this policy document which the broadcast industry had been pushing for many years, the FCC is now serving notice to broadcasters that it intends to make good on enforcing its policy. As it is, the FCC was reticent of releasing such a document (that one commissioner calls a “how-to manual” for skirting the standards and avoiding a fine), and was forced into it through a court agreement with a fined broadaster.

    A final point that I think it’s important to remember–and that seems to go missing from most news reports on indecency fines–is that indecency is only actionable when it is aired during the time when children are most likely to be listening. By law this time period is between the hours of 6 AM and 10 PM. The laws and policies on indecency are supposedly intended to protect children, not ban indecent material from the airwaves — that is the crux of the Supreme Court’s decision. This means that “The Real Slim Shady” can be played, edited or not, after 10:00 PM until 6:00 AM, without fear of a fine.

    As a community and college broadcaster, I can see both sides. I understand the need for creativity and to push the boundaries of “decency,” but I also understand the need to make such material less accessible to children (although I think that’s really a parent’s job to choose to protect in the first place). Recognizing that indecency fines can be used a method to squelch unpopular or challenging speech, banning indecency from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM stikes a not too onerous compromise between these competing interests. I also think that challenging standards of “decency” can be a cop-out, a way to shock without actually saying anything meaningful. That’s clearly the case with most “shock jocks,” who are not truly making a critique of the hypocritial nature of our culture and politics, so much as rolling in the detritus of our culture’s baser instincts. I also don’t think it’s a huge burden to ask a station to put this material on later, or ask adults to tune in later. Even though I have a potty mouth myself all too often, I’m not sure I’m ready for what we came to call “all motherfucker radio,” during discussions about dealing with indecency at WEFT.

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    One response to “FCC Crackdown on Indecency?”

    1. Jessi Avatar

      i love eminem even though i disagree with his lyrics he expresses his frustrations through his music and people ttake what he says way too seriously i admire him for doing what he wants despite critism and never changing for anyone.

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