Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Rights & Reason: Copps v. FCC v. Consumers

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is outraged...at the FCC:
Last August WNEW-FM in New York ran an Opie & Anthony show which allegedly contained a broadcast of sexual activity at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as part of an on-air stunt. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received numerous outraged e-mails and phone calls complaining that this broadcast violated a federal law against indecent programming.

One year later the FCC has failed to even address these complaints. Commissioner Michael J. Copps reacted: “When we allow complaints to languish for a year, the message is loud and clear that the FCC is not serious about enforcing our nation’s laws. Congress expected action from the FCC, but all too often our citizens’ complaints are ignored.”

Copps continued: “I wonder when the FCC will finally take a firm stand against the ‘race to the bottom’ as stations continue to push the envelope of outrageousness even further.” Recently, the FCC proposed a mere $27,500 fine against another station owned by this same company – on WKRK-FM in Detroit – after it aired some of the most vulgar and disgusting indecency that the Commission has examined.

Copps stated: “Nothing has changed over the past year in the FCC’s enforcement of the indecency laws. And at the same time, the Commission’s actions have ensured that things will get even worse.” Instead of enforcing indecency laws, the FCC recently rewarded giant station owners by dismantling the FCC’s media concentration protections. The FCC took this action without even considering whether there is a link between increasing media consolidation and increasing indecency on our airwaves. Copps explained: “It stands to reason that as media conglomerates grow ever bigger and control moves further away from the local community, community standards go by the boards. It is a time to increase, not diminish, our vigilance and our enforcement of the law.”

Copps concluded: “The time has come for the Commission to send a message that it is serious about enforcing the indecency laws. Yet, we continue to turn a deaf ear to the millions of Americans who are fed up with the patently offensive programming coming their way so much of the time.”
This is a clever attempt by Copps to take another swing at the FCC's decision to raise the media ownership cap--a move Copps voted against--by trying to introduce the "indecency" card. You would think someone who is allegedly an expert in the communications market would realize "community standards" is an antiquated and ultimately irrational standard to apply in the modern media age. After all, what "community" gets to decide the standards? By Copps' way of thinking, it should be the most puritanical, easily offended, pro-regulation types who get their way.

Opie and Anthony may be crude--I certainly don't listen to that sort of programming--but if enough people tune-in to make the show profitable for their host station, than the FCC shouldn't get in the way. Unless the FCC thinks itself to be the proper judge of what consumers should want to listen to. Remember, the people who complain the loudest about "indecent" programming are generally not the ones actually listening to the offending programs. But if you accept regulation, rather than individual rights, as the moral basis of society, you believe that your tastes and preferences must be statically imposed upon the national as a whole--in the name of the "public interest" of course.

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