Controversial rapper Eminem won three Grammys this year but music industry kudos didn't protect a Colorado radio station that played an edited version his obscenity-laced "The Real Slim Shady" from the long arm of the feds and numerous rap and pop stations across the country could face government penalties as well.
KKMG(FM) Pueblo Friday was fined $7,000 for airing the rap song throughout spring and summer 2000, including between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when federal rules prohibit "indecent" programming.
Station officials argued that vulgar terms for sex and anatomy were edited out. Regulators, however, determined that KKMG violated the rules by failing to purge entire passages so Eminem's meaning remained clear. "The edited version of the song contains unmistakable offensive sexual references," wrote FCC enforcement chief David Solomon. "Portions of the lyrics contain sexual references in conjunction with sexual expletives that appear intended to pander and shock."
Kathleen Kirby, the Wiley, Rein & Fielding attorney who handles Washington legal work for KKMG parent Citadel Communications, said the edited version aired by the station has been used by countless radio outlets across the country.
Interscope Records, Eminem's recording label issued promotional compact disks featuring several edited versions of "The Real Slim Shady" for air play as well as an unedited one. The song was featured on the album The Marshall Mathers LP, which went multi-platinum last year, spent eight straight weeks number one on the Billboard 200 and won three Grammys including Best Rap Album.
Although the FCC's decision could lead to a spate of additional complaints, FCC officials would not say whether any are pending. Still, a staffer acknowledged that indecency penalties against songs or syndicated broadcasts sometimes "open the floodgates" for more complaints. No additional complaints are pending against Citadel, Kirby said.
Officials at Interscope, Eminem's recording label, did not return phone calls Friday.
WZEE(FM) Madison, Wis. Was fined $7,000 in January for airing an unedited version of "The Real Slim Shady."
Ironically, portions of the rap are devoted to Eminem's bittnerness over the absurdity of shielding children from broadcast vulgarity when most kids have ready access to cable shows that would be considered indecent.
Bringing a penalty against a station for airing an edited version of a song may raise concerns among some free speech advocates, but the FCC in April said broadcasters cannot escape sanction simply by deleting one or two words if an entire passage is deemed indecent and its meaning remains clear.
According to long-delayed indecency guidelines issued two months ago, the FCC said innuendo, double entendre and material that is difficult to understand can lead to sanctions. For instance WWKX(FM) Woonsocket was fined in 1999 for a broadcast bleeping out the words "f***" and "d***," the well-know vulgar terms for sexual intercourse and male anatomy The sanction was justified, the FCC said, because the words were "recognizable, notwithstanding the editing."
The guidelines, which relied on case-by-case examples ostensibly to demonstrate the difference between permissible and forbidden broadcasts, provided little insight on how to deal with fine line cases. Stations that push the envelope are now are beginning to pay the price for the lack of clarity, said Robert Corn-Revere, a First Amendment attorney for Washington firm Hogan & Hartson. "The FCC is talking peace on indecency enforcement but making war on the First Amendment."
He noted that non-commercial station, KBOO-FM Portland, Ore. was fined $7,000 on May 14 for airing rap song "Your Revolution," during a program regularly aired between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. The song continues numerous sexually explicit passages equating male sexual conquest with prevailing attitudes about sexual liberty, the least racy being the chorus: "Your revolution will not happen between these thighs." - Bill McConnell