The Link Between Big Media and Indecency - Broadcasting & Cable

The Link Between Big Media and Indecency

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Editor: Radio indecency and station consolidation are linked, and increased indecency is a consequence of the deregulation of media ownership, according to a study conducted by the Center for Creative Voices in Media and the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham University.

Policymakers who advocate raising fines exponentially for indecency violations and extending fines to on-air talent might better address the problem by taking a fresh look at the link between deregulation and its unintended consequence: increased indecency.

Contrary to the impression left by B&C’s editorial “Indecent Proposal” [9/12, page 48], this position is completely consistent with our endorsement of consumer education about the V-chip, on-screen ratings and cable channel-blocking technology rather than increased government regulation.

Using available data, we determined that, of all the indecency fines levied by the FCC in radio in the years 2000-03, a full 96% were imposed against four of the nation’s largest radio-station ownership groups: Clear Channel, Viacom, Entercom and Emmis. Yet those companies owned only 12% of the total radio stations, with a 48% recent share of the national radio audience.

In contrast, the 88% of the nation’s radio stations not owned by these four station groups, with a combined national audience share of 51%, were responsible for just 4% of FCC indecency violations.

The data also show a repeated pattern: Following the elimination of ownership limits in 1996, a local station would be sold to a large station-ownership group, which then eliminated local content and replaced it with an edgy/raunchy show that it produced in another market, causing the station to receive an FCC indecency fine for the first time in its history.

To settle their violations, three of the four station-ownership groups paid millions of dollars and entered into consent decrees that significantly increase restrictions and penalties for future violations. The inevitable result is the self-censorship of speech that is not indecent and is protected by the First Amendment.

The better way to address the problem of objectionable speech is not less speech but more speech from more voices. We invite all to read our report, at www.creativevoices.us, and judge for themselves.

Jonathan Rintels

Executive director

Center for Creative Voices in Media

Washington

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