FCC Petition Would Muzzle Satellite Stern


If one California broadcaster has its way, Howard Stern won't be able to be his rude, crude and funny self on satellite radio, either.

Mount Wilson Broadcasters, owner of one FM and two AMs, has filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC arguing that since indecency regulation applies to expression "by means of radio communications," and satellite radio is, well, radio communications, it should be subject to the same content restrictions.

Stern is making a high-profile jump to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2005, citing less hassle from government.

But isn't the issue, as with cable, that satellite radio is a subscription service? (Cable uses radio frequencies too.) No says Mount Wilson, pointing to language in the 1997 FCC rules governing digital audio radio satellite service (DARS).

The FCC anticipated that the service might be a mix of subscription and free services, Mount Wilson's attorneys point out, interpreting that as meaning that "whether DARS operates either as a broadcast or a subscription service is not a relevant consideration to the imposition of programming/public interest rules.

Those rules already hold digital radio to similar equal employment opportunity requirements, similar treatment of political speech, and reserve the right says.

The Supreme Court has already ruled in the Playboy case that cable, and arguably subscription services in general, are not subject to indecency regulations, though legislators and regulators, including FCC Chairman Michael Powell, have suggested it may be time to rethink that distinction given the fact that most people get their TV via cable.