WASHINGTON — Radio shock jocks and foul-mouthed rappers are cheering a Jan. 8 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to drop an indecency ruling against a Colorado radio station.
The order rescinds a $7,000 fine levied against Pueblo's KKMG-FM for playing the controversial lyrics of Eminem's commercially successful 2000 hit, “The Real Slim Shady.”
The radio station's parent company, Citadel Broadcasting Company, had appealed the decision, claiming that the lyrics had been edited acceptably for radio.
The lyrics in question referred to sexual acts and lewd conduct. The lyrics are transcribed in the FCC's enforcement order, available on the agency's Web site.
“The passages in question, in context, refer to sexual activity. Thus the material warranted scrutiny,” wrote David Solomon, the agency's chief of enforcement.
Yet, Solomon concluded, “Based on our review of Citadel's response, however, we concluded that the material broadcast was not patently offensive, and thus not actionably indecent.”
The FCC refused to answer questions from the Register, referring all inquiries to the report itself.
The FCC's ruling comes on the heels of a report released Jan. 3 by Martha Kleder, a former radio broadcaster who works with Washington, D.C.-based Concerned Women for America. Kleder said that given the FCC's repeated failure to take action against on-air indecency, the reversal of the Eminem ruling was predictable.
“Look at the Colorado radio station that got in trouble. Every other rap station in the nation played that song. They would say, ‘Why should you single us out?” Kleder said.
She said such spotty enforcement is not acceptable.
“They have to have regular enforcement, fair and across the board,” she said. “It would put the scare in [radio stations].”
Kleder said that the FCC has a pattern of lax enforcement. In her report, she listed two of the most grievous lapses in enforcement.
Lex, Terry and Mrs. Woods
The “most shocking” occurred in connection with a February 2001 complaint from Angela Woods, a young mother from Hueytown, Ala.
She had been listening to the “Lex and Terry Show,” a program distributed widely across the south, but new to her area.
The program hosts used vulgar and obscene terms to describe female genitalia.
“Woods immediately called the station to complain about the language and was ridiculed on the air by the hosts with still more vulgar and obscene language,” wrote Kleder.
“When Woods arrived at work that morning her co-workers, who had been listening to the same station, reported that the hosts had said they ‘hope she has a wreck and gets killed on the way to work.’”
Yet the FCC dismissed her case, Kleder said, with the federal agency stating that while the hosts’ comments were “certainly offensive, they are not indecent because they are not patently offensive as measured by contemporary standards for the broadcast medium.”
Another case in which the FCC refused to issue a fine involved “Mancow's Morning Madhouse” program on Feb. 23, 2000.
David Smith, of Chicago, Ill., filed three complaints about the show and the FCC took action on two of the incidents.
But Kleder said, “What the FCC didn't take action on is eye-opening.”
According to the complaint, “between 7:50 and 8 in the morning, Mancow and his staff talked euphemistically and directly” about sexual contact between adults and children, claiming that he himself has engaged in such contact.
Gloria Tristani, a Democratic FCC appointee, issued a dissent on both the Woods and Smith rulings, stating both incidents must be ruled indecent.
“Mrs. Woods made a prima facie case for indecency sufficient to survive dismissal,” Tristani said. “Second, a broadcaster owes a duty to handle indecency complaints from citizens without engaging in over-the-air verbal attacks that include expressing a desire for the complainant to wreck her car and die.”
Bill Johnson, president of the Michigan-based American Decency Association, said lax decisions are all too common.
“I really believe that the FCC is, sadly, toothless,” he said.
Johnson said that his organization filed nine different complaints of indecency on shock jock Howard Stern's radio program.
“We've supplied them not only with the actual audio tapes, but the written transcripts as well,” he said. “We never even received a response from the FCC.”
Not content to rely on the FCC, Johnson's group has organized a protest of stations that carry Stern's program as well as advertisers who sponsor the show.
Since the boycott began, CBS has dropped its Saturday night television broadcast of Stern and over 20 radio markets no longer carry his morning radio show.
“We've been busy on several fronts because of our frustration with the FCC,” he said.
Kleder applauds such boycotts and said that her family only watches two television programs: “JAG” and “Jeopardy.”
Indecent programming comes from lax FCC enforcement, she said. The lax enforcement, which she says is embodied by FCC chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, derives from a “let the market decide” philosophy, Kleder maintained.
“Right off the bat, Powell let go Stern's outstanding fines. That was one of the first things he did as chairman” after being appointed in January 2001, said Kleder. “It's the philosophy that has ruled the FCC for over a decade.”
But hope is on the horizon, she said.
Kleder noted that there's a vacancy of the five-member FCC commission. The four members currently on the board, she said, are split down the middle between “let the market decide” and enforcing standards for decency.
“One more vote for decency enforcement and maybe we can see light,” she said.
Johnson warned, however, that the vacancy, which by law must be filled by a Democrat, could be held up by the Bush administration in response to the Democratic Senate's continued stalling on judicial nominations recommended by the president.
Either way, both Kleder and Johnson recommend that concerned citizens stop watching indecent material and contact the White House about their concerns.
“Michael Powell is a bureaucrat. He's taken an oath to enforce our laws — he doesn't have the option to pick and choose on enforcing the U.S. [indecency] code,” said Kleder. “We wouldn't stand for that reasoning from a prison warden.”
Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.