Today the FCC announced an aggregate $755,000 in fines against a group of Clear Channel stations in Florida for stupid pieces aired on the Bubba the Love Sponge program. Those with a memory longer than the mainstream press might recall that Bubba was tried on charges of animal cruelty for slaughering a live boar in his station’s parking lot live on air. While he was acquitted of that charge, that doesn’t make Bubba any less of a hateful, bigoted, mysogynystic moron.
The total fine results from levying the statutory maximum fine of $27,500 for each of 26 airings of indecent material.
Most of the stuff is pretty lame, though full of frat house humor and bleeped out fucks, dicks, and shits that are obvious and unmistakeable to anyone who’s ever heard those words before. Although I do think it’s pretty rough and mysogynystic stuff to be airing in the morning. You can read transcripts of all the segments in the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability.
It seems clear to me that the FCC is using this fine against Clear Channel in the agency’s run up to get Congress to allow for much higher top fines for indecency. Indeed, at $27,500 a pop, for a goliath like Clear Channel these fines are, as FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has pointed out before, simply the cost of doing business.
In fact, Copps dissented on levying the fine because he thinks the amount is still too small, even when aggregated to $755,000. Rather, he thinks the status of the stations’ licenses should be thrown into the mix:
“To fulfill our duty under the law, I believe the Commission should have designated these cases for a hearing on the revocation of these stations licenses, as provided for by Section 312(a)(6) of the Communications Act. I am discouraged that my colleagues would not join me in taking a firm stand against indecency on the airwaves.
If the Commission cant bring itself to go to a revocation hearing, at least the Commission should have used its current statutory authority to impose a higher and meaningful fine. The Commission could have proposed a fine for each separate ‘utterance’ that was indecent, rather than one fine for each lengthy segment. As Commissioner Martin points out,
such an approach would have led to a significantly higher fine.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally uncomfortable with indecency enforcement since it has been used in the past as a way to persecute unpopular and dissident speech. The FCC levied several fines and issued limited licenses to several Pacifica stations in the 1960s and 70s, and even fined Portland, OR community radio station KBOO in 2001 for airing a feminist rap song (the KBOO fine was eventually dropped in 2003).
However, the rampant sexist, homophobic and sometimes racist content of so-called “shock jock” programs is one of the most obvious results of a broadcast industry devoid of responsibility or any enforced obligation to the communities they broadcast to or any sort of public interest.
There’s nothing remotely dissident about a rich bigoted white guy degrading women, mocking homosexuals, slaughtering animals, being a mindless cheerleader for Bush’s wars, and engaging in on-air persecutions of university professors simply for being muslim and willing to speak publicly. Bubba and his brethren are nothing but bullies backed up by multi-billion dollar corporations, who have exhausted what little benefit of the doubt they might ever have merited.
Our legislators and regulators appear utterly impotent in taking the likes of Clear Channel to task for killing local news and content, streaming the same 40 songs off a hard drive to hundreds of stations and running independent stations out of business with predatory ad rates.
If indecency is the one thing that makes DC take note of these companies’ pattern of arrogant and capricious violations, then so be it.
Frankly, I can think of thousands of more useful, constructive, entertaining and funny things to do with an hour of radio than hold an on-air contest where twelve women degrade themselves in order to win free breast implants. Such is an example of the “wacky and outrageous” hijinks that merited Clear Channel several fines for Bubba.
Unfortunately, it’s not a far leap from imploring women to degrade themselves for listeners’ sick amusement to spending an afternoon of radio laughing about ways to violently abuse women during sex acts. Incredibly, the Detroit station, owned by Infinity/Vicaom, that aired the latter programming only got one $27,500 fine, the maximum the FCC majority claimed it could levy. I’m pretty sure that it was this travesty of justice that got the ball rolling at the FCC to get bigger fines for this type of garbage.
I’m with Commissioner Copps on this one — it’s time to start placing these stations’ licenses into jeopardy, since fines don’t seem to really work anyway. But I would like to suggest some additions to that tactic.
How about the next time a station airs sexually explicit programming that degrades women during morning programming, they should be forced to forfeit their license to a women’s broadcasting collective?
Or maybe the next time Bubba decides to slaughter some poor animal on-air, Clear Channel cedes a license to the Animal Liberation Front?
And when another Clear Channel station host advocates that motorists run bicycles off the road, they sould be forced to give the studios over to the local Critical Mass.
Screw fines, give us Infinity and Clear Channel’s transmitters!