Monday, December 19, 2005

Howard Stern

This week, all the talk has been about Howard Stern leaving regular broadcast radio for Sirius radio network. Some people both in and out of power have even proposed censorship of satellite based radio (like Sirius).

Now, I've never been a fan of Stern, or his vulgar, offensive and often patently gross material. I certainly would not want to turn on the radio and have my kids get a blast of Howard Stern.

However, I have been a fan of Stern in his ongoing fight against federal regulators and others who want to censor the airways.

Because of Stern and the highly publicized Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake 'wardrobe malfunction' at the Superbowl two years ago (luckily, in our home we have a rule about not watching TV on Sunday, which saved us a look at 'the nipple,') a bunch of blowhards and demagogues in Congress passed a bill last year to increase FCC fines for local broadcasters for such incidents by a factor of ten! to up to $275,000 per incident. I thought this (called the Decency Enforcement Act) was ridiculous, then and I still do. First of all, we aren't looking at a tidal wave of problems. Stern, as had already been announced before the legislation was passed, already was leaving the broadcast airways because of the pain that the old fines had caused his former syndicates. The Superbowl halftime show, at the time one of the almost extinct 'live' events left on television, is now broadcast with a several second tape delay. In other words, when the few incidents that occur, do occur, the broadcast industry is pretty good at handling it in-house. Increasing the fine by a factor of ten was disproportionate and clearly done for looks, no matter how much this might harm local affiliates (who get hit with the fines but may have had no part in creating the situation). Shame on those members of Congress (and it passed in the Senate 99-1) who chose to 'look tough' or who were so craven about being criticized for (in the typical double speak attack language of the right) 'supporting obscenity on radio and TV' if they dared to oppose the bill on the grounds that the fines as they were two years ago were adequate, and even if they were not, increasing them by as much as they were was a draconian measure.

So now, the same crew that demogogued the issue last year, wants to follow Stern and limit Sirius. I have two problems with this. The first is that customers of Stern now have to pay for the privilege. So the usual stuff about 'what if kids turn it on?' is much more clearly a cover for censorship. The fact that he is allowed to broadcast at all is an irritant from those who want to shut him up, and if they succeed, then they can shut up anyone they want to. The second is that these paragons of 'personal responsibility,' don't want to live by their own rules and tell their kids to turn the radio off, or monitor what they listen to or look up on the internet. We do a good job of monitoring our kids, why can't they do the same, instead of using it to try and impose their personal standards on everyone in the country?

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