Committed to the First Amendment
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/1/2002 8:00:00 PM
Just say no
While searching for a picture of ousted WNEW(FM) jocks Greg Hughes and Anthony Cumia (a.k.a. Opie and Anthony), we came across the one that appears on page 17. Sorry about that. But we wanted to give those unfamiliar with their act a little of its flavor. Actually, the picture illustrates precisely the message they sent to New York's Roman Catholic community.
But we are not here today to pile on the duo for their unforgivable sin (we did that last week); we are here to show Chairman Michael Powell a way out of his dilemma. He's under political pressure to punish WNEW's owner, Infinity Broadcasting, yet the broadcast of a couple having sex in St. Patrick doesn't appear to have run afoul of the FCC's rather vague indecency code. To make Infinity do penance, some lawyers believe, the FCC may have to dig up some rather obscure regs that require owners to exercise control over their stations, which could create an ugly precedent for suppressing opinions.
So what's Powell to do? It's simple, but it will take some political courage. He should dust off one of those powerful First Amendment speeches he gave when he was a mere commissioner and use it as the basis for a statement or speech on the Opie and Anthony incident. He should remind all that people are sometimes going to say things in print or on the air that upset just about everyone and that, in a free society like ours, there is nothing the government can do (or ought to do) about it. Case closed.
An ounce of prevention
Isn't it always the way? The congressmen and senators grab headlines by passing somewhat vague reform legislation and then leave it to the bureaucrats to figure out how to make the legislation work. We've seen this scenario played out over and over in the convoluted history of telecommunications law and regulation. The latest congressional untidiness is the Campaign Reform Act. While the lawmakers stretched their summer vacations, the civil servants of the Federal Election Commission last week worked in Washington's August humidity on implementing rules by holding public hearings and accepting comments.
The National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio-Television News Directors Association joined the debate (see story, page 14). The NAB wants to make sure that the broadcasters would not be responsible for determining whether a particular political spot was acceptable under the new rules. The RTNDA wants to make sure that all bona fide news programming—a sponsored candidate debate, for instance—is exempt from any restrictions. Both issues have the potential of causing much mischief. As every politician and lobbyist knows, the fundamental legal truth of our great republic is not the Constitution. It's the Law of Unintended Consequences.
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