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for March 11, 2004


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A Chill In The Airwaves
by Stiffy Biceptz

Much debate has swirled in the wake of Miss Jackson's mammary mishap during the halftime show of the Super Bowl a month or so ago. Since then, the whole issue of indecency on the public airwaves has boiled over into a raucous argument over who's to blame, how to define indecency, what's to be done about it, and whether or not it's all Howard Stern's fault. It's a very important debate, one in which every member of the listening public should be involved.
 
As the rules go, the FCC has the final say as to what is indecent or not on the public airwaves. That's because the GOVERNMENT [acting on behalf of the public interest - Ed.] owns the public airwaves; stations are awarded licenses to use those particular frequencies. Those licenses can be revoked at any time for almost any reason and that's why stations always have to be careful about the content of their programming. Use of a four letter word like "shit" by an on air personality or artist could theoretically get the station tossed off the air. Don't laugh - it has happened. The rules have been the same since the beginning of radio and TV. Only the public's perception of what's indecent has changed over time, moving generally to the more accepting end of the scale, as anyone who has watched TV or listened to radio over the last 25 years knows for themselves.
 
But what exactly are the public airwaves? This is an important distinction as the public airwaves are essentially ordinary ground-based radio and TV thru-the-air transmitted signals that can be accessed for free by anyone in the signal range. On the other hand, signals delivered by cable or by satellite transmission are not public airwaves, since these are pay only and are not accessible to anyone without a specific receiver. None of the content rules of public airwaves apply, as is evident by the quantity of "indecent" material you can view, hear, upload or download from these transmissions.
 
But what should concern anyone who enjoys the content of the non-public airwaves are recent comments by several elected officials who, in the wake of "nipple-gate" raised the issue of regulating satellite radio. In effect, they suggested perhaps satellite transmissions should be brought under the definition of "public airwaves", and therefore under the authority of the FCC. I believe it to be unlikely but it is entirely possible something like this could occur. In both political and legal terms, it would not be too hard to define satellite broadcasts as "over the public airwaves".
 
Stiffy Biceptz finds this to be an unacceptable threat to broadcast freedom. If you agree with me, as you should, I urge you to contact your congressman or senator by email or phone, and politely but firmly let them know that the FCC should not be involved in anything beyond its current range of authority. You can find your reps and send them a letter at congress.org. Do it now.
 
Let's keep the balance between public and private broadcast control as it is. Satellite radio is a wonderful new medium of free speech and creativity with almost infinite possibilities. And if you don't like what you are hearing, just turn it off.
 
Personally, I'd rather be offended now and then; it reminds me what a wonderfully diverse society I am fortunate enough to live in.
 

©2004 Stiffy Biceptz

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.

 







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