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Friday, September 01, 2006

Radio Indecency Decisions -- What Happened to Them?

Last March, the FCC released a decision addressing a number of pending television indecency complaints. It was widely expected that a similar item addressing pending radio indecency complaints would quickly follow. Five months later, however, nothing more has been released addressing radio indecency complaints.

I have not talked with anyone at the FCC so anything I observe as to why the FCC has not released any decisions on radio indecency is speculation. Nonetheless, my take on the lack of the radio item seeing daylight is that there are several factors in play.

First of all, I believe that the FCC's staff was a little discombobulated that its TV decision met with such harsh criticism from the industry. It is easy when working at a government agency to believe your own reasoning no matter how far removed from reality that reasoning may be. With the TV item, for instance, just what is the difference between the context of a documentary on blues music and a war movie that makes the same word profane in the first instance but not in the second? Apparently the FCC's staff could clearly see there was a difference but that difference still eludes me.

Second, like it or not, the FCC in today's world is subject to political pressure. For the past several years, it has been television, rather than radio (thank goodness and thank you Janet Jackson), on the indecency hot seat. The political pressure was on to get the TV item out the door. I doubt the same outside pressure is being applied to radio complaints. Therefore, the FCC has far less motivation to work on what is undoubtedly an item with as many instances of blurry lines as had the TV item.

Third, radio is a different medium than TV and is much more subject to the imagination. If the FCC's indecency regulations were strictly applied, both context and subject matter would cause perhaps 20% of the love songs routinely broadcast by adult contemporary stations to be held indecent (for instance the lyrics to "Shake You Down" by Gregory Abbott are "Girl I wanna shake you down, I could give you all the loving you need, Come on let me take you down, We'll go all the way to heaven"). That popular adult sappy love songs have the potential to be indecent under the Commission's standards has to give the staff pause in evaluating many of the radio complaints.

Despite the best efforts of the FCC, it is doubtful that a release of the radio indecency decisions will shed more light on exactly where is the indecency line. Like the TV decisions, they may even hold speech that was previously acceptable to be indecent.


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