The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Censorship is on the political map

It's been a chapter of accidents.

First, the commendably anti-censorship 'Sonny Boy' Powell gets bumped up to Chairman of the FCC. (Cheney got Liz a sinecure at State - so Colin's gotta have gravy.)

Then a whole bunch of industry issues in broadcasting bubble up, in particular, the media concentration rules, that raise the FCC profile, bring conflict with pressure groups and legislators.

And finally that piece of beige Silly Putty makes its appearance on February 1 at the Super Bowl.

Mikey, you're on. Like getting the hook, only in reverse.

The FCC regulatory reaction - as detailed here in numerous pieces ever since - has appeared to be focussed on Big Bad Howard (Stern, that is). The chilling effect has gone much wider (Victoria's has gone back to being a Secret) - and the reaction against the campaign has similarly broadened.

The story of the most un-Stern-like Sandra Tsing Loh ran to several episodes here (the last on March 29). Don Imus spoke out (April 13).

The suits have descended like the 81st Airborne on broadcasters.

A piece in the Boston Globe (April 17), for instance, rounds up the big chill. For instance,
At WTKK-FM (96.9), host Jay Severin is no longer allowed to use the term "effing."

The publisher of Talkers magazine, Michael Harrison, says
We consider this to be the most alarming, serious issue in the history of Talkers magazine. At every radio station in the country, management is meeting with lawyers and talent, telling them what they can and cannot [say]. There has been a radical repression, a loss of nuance all across the dial.

One Boston suit, Matt Mills, tells us what we want to hear:
I think the broadcasters will go to court and fight over First Amendment rights...

Or is he just telling us what we want to hear?

The folks at Air America, I can report, are regularly joshing on the subject on air. But they're also playing it very safe. The Globe piece says:
Jon Sinton, president of the recently launched liberal talk network Air America Radio, said his on-air performers were told to "just remember you're guests in people's homes, you're guests in people's automobiles."

Sinton apparently thinks the Comstocks intend to take the tide at the flood:
This feels much more serious to me . . . and it's been building for a long, long time. The message I got is that this is more than election-year politics.

Now, for at least the last decade, FCC regulation has been viewed by the industry as
  • limited to radio smut;

  • concentrated on Howard Stern;

  • productive of (at worst) fines at the cost of doing business level;

  • unenthusiastically imposed by a shambolic regulator.

No more, perhaps.

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