Baltimore Sun wrote:WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest radio chain dropped the country's best-known shock jock today after federal regulators proposed fining it $495,000 for sexually explicit material on the Howard Stern show.
As part of its stepped-up enforcement of indecency regulations, a unanimous Federal Communications Commission fined Clear Channel Communications the maximum $27,500 for each of 18 alleged violations. Regulators departed from their norm by citing Clear Channel for multiple violations in a single broadcast rather than simply issuing a single fine for an entire show.
John Hogan, president of Clear Channel Radio, said the government's crackdown on indecency has gotten his company's attention.
"Mr. Stern's show has created a great liability for us and other broadcasters who air it," said Hogan, who suspended Stern in February from the six Clear Channel stations that carried him. "The Congress and the FCC are even beginning to look at revoking station licenses. That's a risk we're just not willing to take."
Clear Channel has 30 days to contest the fine. The company last month agreed to pay a record $755,000 indecency fine for broadcasts by the disc jockey known as "Bubba the Love Sponge," who was fired.
In a statement posted on his Web site, Stern characterized the fine as furtherance of a "witch hunt" against him by the Bush administration, which he says is punishing him for his criticism of the president.
"It is pretty shocking that governmental interference into our rights and free speech takes place in the U.S.," he said. "It's hard to reconcile this with the 'land of the free' and the 'home of the brave.'"
Stern's nationally syndicated show features graphic sexual discussion and humor. It appears on more than 30 stations -- most of them owned by Viacom Inc.'s Infinity Broadcasting unit -- and draws millions of die-hard listeners.
Infinity spokesman Dana McClintock said the company has no plans to take any action against Stern.
Last month, the FCC proposed fining Infinity $27,500 for a Stern show broadcast July 26, 2001, on WKRK-FM in Detroit. Infinity paid $1.7 million in 1995 to settle various violations by Stern.
The Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog group, said fines against Stern accounted for almost half of the $4 million in penalties proposed by the FCC since 1990.
Critics who bemoan a growing coarseness of the public airwaves say the FCC and Congress need to dramatically increase fines and enforcement to ensure major broadcasting companies don't see occasional fines as simply a cost of doing business.
The House has voted to raise the maximum fine to $500,000 and to require the FCC to consider revoking a broadcast license after three indecency violations. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.
"A $27,500 fine to a company that does $27 billion worth of business is less than a mosquito on a windshield," said L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, a conservative advocacy group. "It is just so insignificant as to be laughable."
Federal law bars radio stations and over-the-air television channels from airing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels or satellite radio.
A listener complained about Stern's April 9, 2003, show on a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., station. The show contained discussions about sex accompanied by flatulence sounds. The FCC action came at the end of the one-year deadline for it to act.
Previously, when the commission has fined broadcasters it has been for the contents of an entire show. And it normally only levied the penalty against stations mentioned in a complaint.
In this case, though the complaint only involved the Fort Lauderdale station, the commission determined there were three indecency violations during the program and fined Clear Channel for all six of its stations that aired the show for a total of 18 citations.
"Today's decision is a step forward toward imposing meaningful fines," Commissioner Michael Copps said.
Though the commission received no complaints from listeners to Infinity stations, it is looking into fining that company, too.
Howard's been doing the same thing for years. I wonder why they're so upset after all these years?
In the words of David Cross, talking about the scourge of violence in the media, "If the only thing they show on television is $h!T like "Touched By an Angel," I'm gonna start f'n killing people!"