Committed to the First Amendment
Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/13/2002 7:00:00 PM
Don't mess around with 'Slim'
Thousands of radio stations can breathe a little easier now that the FCC has reversed itself and vacated the indecency fine on the edited version of Eminem's hit "The Real Slim Shady." That's how many stations had already played the song and could have faced similar fines if the sanction had stood. The fine was only $7,000, but multiply that by 100,000-plus airings, and it starts to look bigger. The money was secondary, however, to the issue of the FCC's role in chilling content, which would have been expanded by the original decision: This widely popular song in its fined version had already been carefully edited to bleep offending parts.
We share few viewpoints with new Commissioner Michael Copps, but one we do is that, henceforth, indecency decisions should rise to the commissioner level. Since indecency is a "know it when they see it" call for the FCC, each decision is a precedent about what can and cannot be played on every radio and TV station in America. The commissioners should have to sign off on every one of them. The FCC last week issued another indecency fine, this one for $14,000, against a radio station for airing sexually suggestive material. That ruling will now add to the speech that broadcasters publish at their peril.
Back in June, at the time of the Enforcement Bureau's initial finding of liability in the Eminem case, at least one commissioner claimed no knowledge of the fine until reading of it in press accounts. That's one too many.
Revised forecast: Sky isn't falling
Having written itself the part of Chicken Little, the Writers Guild of America has called for government hearings in Hollywood, saying it wants to exhume the financial-interest and syndication rules, bar dual-network ownership, revive a number of other ownership regs, and otherwise turn back the clock. It is not the sky but the quality of TV that has fallen, they opine, thanks to the domination of the airwaves by "a tiny group of like-minded people who share similar financial goals [and] absolute control over what Americans see on television." The result: diminished creativity and diversity.
We think the guild's reading off the wrong script. There is incredible volume, incredible variety and edgier stuff than ever. Is it tougher for some independent writers to get their stuff made? Sure. Are there a lot more unscripted reality shows with people bobbing for plums in Plexiglas tanks full of water snakes? Sure. But there are room and appetite for just about everything lately—good and bad. All you have to do is read a TV Guide from the '70s or '80s when fin-syn was in full force to know that those were no golden ages. We would argue that prime time today is as good as it has ever been, maybe better. Equally good are employment prospects for TV writers, from dreck-dredgers to dazzlers, who are writing TV shows in record numbers.
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