Who Needs To Limit Free Speech When You Can Coerce People To Do It Themselves

from the constitution-schmonstitution dept

As part of its puritanical “pro-family” push for decency on radio and TV, the current administration last month pushed though a tenfold increase in the fines the FCC can levy on broadcasters, making them now liable for up to $325,000 per incident. The fines seem to be meeting politicians’ intentions: having a chilling effect on broadcast content and even individual performers. Part of the problem with the fines — as broadcasters have pointed out — is that they’re unevenly applied, and that the FCC won’t give clear guidelines on what is or isn’t acceptable, because the commission says doing so would be an unconstitutional limit on free speech. So it’s done the next best thing: raise the potential fines so high that they keep people far, far back from the invisible line of acceptability. It’s a sneaky move, since they’ve done nothing overtly to defy the First Amendment, but they don’t have to since they’ve gotten people so scared of the consequences of breaking these unknown standards.

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Comments on “Who Needs To Limit Free Speech When You Can Coerce People To Do It Themselves”

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Greg says:

This is probably MORE effective than just flat-out telling people what they can and can’t do.

At least then you’d know what was definitely unacceptable, now there’s a nebulous threat of hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging over your head, and broadcasters are going to give it a wide berth. You end up with MORE censorship, because businesses are going to play it safe now that the stakes are drastically raised.

Just Dropped By says:

Yeah, tell me about it. Been active in noncommrecial community broadcast for decades. Best I can tell, the FCC is focussing on small noncomms, all on complaints from well organized religious and political whackos of course.

The effect is that there’s plenty of classical and culturally important material that is just too risky to air these days. It’s not what you think it is either. If you’re a historcal blues fan, forget about hearing most Ma Raney and Bessie Smith. If you’re a Shakespeare fan, forget about hearing any of his comedies. And don’t even think about Aristophanes.

Making it worse, if that’s possible, is that any material aired during “safe harbor” from 10PM to 6AM is likely to be subject to an obscenity (not indecency) prosecution. They’ve got a totally flexible and subjective standard they can use to go after any noncomm that isn’t broadcasting all Jeezus all the time.

This whole crusade might seem like nothing more than an attempt to reduce all adultt Americans to the status of young children. But it’s not just that. It’s economic. The whole purpose is to make it easy for the religious whackos to challenge licenses of noncomms that aren’t religious. Make a complaint, get a free license at renewal time.

Every indecency complaint that the FCC has acted on has been generated by some organized whacko campaign, right down to form letter complaints by people who didn’t even hear the program, just a recording of it made by the religious whacko group.

Most every station I know of is locking down “indecency” completely, even during mandated “safe harbor” hours. Better safe than sorry, so no material gets aired that could even be considered even slightly risque or double entendre. That’s a lot of good music that can never be aired again.

Dam says:

Re: Re:

How come people who don’t agree with the view of a non-comm broadcaster are whackos? Is that the best argument you can put forth – calling people deeply interested in raising the bar names?

Try not to be too offended when I mention that the broadcast spectrum is owned by the public and it’s the publicly accountable FCC that has to maintain some order. Otherwise, over the air broadcasts will begin to look like many cable channels, and many of those channels are not welcome in the homes of those “whackos” as you so kindly refer to them.

EverydayBS says:

Re: Re: whackos

Being that the broadcast spectrum is owned by the public. Means that the FCC should enforce the standards of the majority not the few. And you are called “whackos” cause any sane person with a little common sense knows they can change the channel if it offends them. I listen to the local Evangelical radio station and every other sentence that comes out of their mouths seems to giver me ire. But do I complain? No, I recognize that any comments that go too far for me will constitute the use of my index finger. It’s not hard. I shouldn’t have to be surfing the TV and see Pat Roberts on the air spouting some insane rhetoric about the end of the world. What does offend me is the fact that anyone with a bible has a right to tell me what I can and can’t watch. You aren’t forced to watch or hear what offends you. So why should you be allowed to force us not to be given the “feedom” (what our constitution is built upon) to partake, if we chose. The FCC, Bush, Congress, and the Religious Reicht does not have the right to push their own narrow viewpoints of what is decent on me or any citizen. To do so is taking our Bill or Rights and using it as toilet paper. That my friend is the most offensive thing of all !!!!!

Louis says:

Re: Indecency on TV

How about someone create a web page with form letters that could be sent every time that you see a show that has a preacher in it preaching against gays, blacks, hispanics, or even God, because for me, what the preachers say about God is really offensive (especially when they ask for money). Let’s see if any of those religious shows ever get fined.

Anonymous of Course says:

Such vagueness is not uncommon

I was once responsible for reporting the the department

of natural resources and environmental protection agency

the hazardous waste production and disposal for a mid

sized electronics manufacturing company. I had a question

for the DNR field engineer and he flat out told me that

the regulation was vague because in this way they could

enforce the intent of the law. Where if it was specific

people might find says to subvert the law. Happily he

felt I was in compliance with the intent of the law.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

“…the FCC is focussing on small noncomms, all on complaints from well organized religious and political whackos.”

Exactly. The FCC doesn’t go snooping on its own. It depends on complaints from individuals, whether these individuals respond on their own or from the prodding of organizations. See also the Howard Stern debacle.

It sucks asphalt, but I prefer this to an “active” FCC..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The FCC doesn’t go snooping on its own. It depends on complaints from individuals, whether these individuals respond on their own or from the prodding of organizations.

And then it picks and chooses the complaints it want to act upon. Just because you complain to the FCC, don’t expect them to act on your complaint: it all depends on who you are. Selective enforcement is the only rule.

Jamie says:

I don't blame them too much

The way I see it, the FCC is in a pretty hard position when it comes to decency enforcement.

On the one hand, they have the religious and conservative groups clamoring for better decency enforcement on television and radio.

On the other you have people who are doing their best to push the limit of what is acceptable.

Both sides are not hesitant to take their case to congress or court under the guise of decency or free speech. The FCC can’t please either side. They could set specific boundaries. Those boundaries will be challenged in court by the side that wants to push the envelope on free speech grounds because in their eyes, any boundaries are wrong no matter where they are set. So no matter how lenient the actual boundaries are, they won’t accept them.

The decency camp will also challenge the boundaries because in their eyes any boundaries (no matter how strict) set will be too lenient. They aren’t as likely to challenge it in court as the other side, but they will push for congress to make more laws governing the FCC since obviously (in their point of view) the FCC isn’t doing its job.

So by not setting specific boundaries, the FCC is trying to walk a middle line and not make either side happy, but not make either side angry enough to really go after them. It won’t work, but I really don’t see any other way they can play this as long as the two sides are unwilling to compromise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Good for the FCC

You know, much religious broadcasting could be considered offensive and indecent by people of a different belief. When your own children are exposed to religious ideas different than your own, what could be worse? When do you expect the FCC to begin issuing large fines to these religious broadcasters?

James (profile) says:

One person’s indecency may not be another’s. If you don’t like what someone says change the station, don’t bitch because you don’t like the content and think that no one else shouldn’t listen to it either.

Saying company’s should hire ‘responsible’ DJs is tremulous at best. Personally, unsanitized entertainment is a good thing, why should I be forced to watch / listen to holier than thou tv just because someone else wants to dictate my morality.

I shouldn’t. Plain and simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So you should be able to broadcast what you think is decent and moral?

It becomes a pissing war…My morality is better than your morality.

There are no REAL winners here. However, which side would you rather err on (don’t forget this is PUBLIC airwaves)? The side that has finite reasoning behind what they believe and why things shoud be regulated OR the side that thinks there should be no bounds becuase any bounds are limiting of their freedoms?

I don’t know, the FCC doesn’t either, but right now they are getting paid more by the regulation camp. Quite honestly, I think I like it more that way. If I have a show that gets deemed offensive AND I have a group of people that are want to enjoy it, then they should be willing to pay for access to that content. This way you can at least have some control what does come into your home.

Sorry for the slightly mal-formed thought.

Anonymous Coward says:

You think this is limited to the FCC? Every governmental agency that exists operates this way. Take a look at the drug industry and its advertising regulations. Is there any regulation that specifically outlawed what Tap Pharmaceuticals was doing? Nope. They just got hit with a $850 million dollar fine.

Thats the way the govt. works, they give you guidelines but nothing that is actually black and white.

Jake says:

How about we just quit

I think that the FCC can’t make any revenue if every radio station and television station just quit broadcasting for a few days, then show who has the power, I say screw this powerbacked overbearing organization, they are like a disease, next thing you know they will start controlling public places. Then comes our lives: No hunting, because killing animals isn’t decent, and that also means no hamburgers or any natural form of meat(whew, at least i can still have slim jim’s). I think that its becoming a big problem, and needs to be stopped.

Raekwon says:

Down With America

Honestly I don’t care about the FCC. May they feast on a thousand smoldering pennies. All government controlled agencies are evil, uninterested in the good of the public, and seekers of the almighty $$. Any of these high ranking “officials” would gladly sell you the rocking chairs out from under themselves if you’d like it; as long as you’ve got the money to pay for it. America is on a decline, as far as the government goes. Bush? Don’t get me started. Jobs for those without a college education? OUTSOURCED. IT Professionals with years of experience? OUTSOURCED. Bush gets Oil from Iraq for free by stealing it. DOUBLED PRICES FOR AMERICANS. Invested in Oil? Bush has, Cheney Has. They have already gained millions of dollars from this war and stand to gain alot more. Social Security for today’s youth? SPENT! Wouldn’t it be nice if minimum wage were raised so you’d be able to pay your insane car insurance for your overtaxxed car that you can’t afford gas for? And if you happen to get on the road, watch out for the police purposely stopping short or weaving in and out of traffic in attempts to confuse you inorder ticket you and fill thier quotas. Or perhaps pay the rent with the money you have left after taxes when you receive your check and then pay taxes again when you make your payment. Good thing you didn’t plan on eating anyways, maybe next paycheck.

If I ever catch a break, I’m out of this country. I suggest you all do the same. Renounce your citizenship! All it entitles you to is the right to pay taxes. 20 million illegal immigrants would agree!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Glad to see you go

Hope you catch that break…so you can get outta here and stop bitching.

I’ll give it to you that the rich get richer because they start stacking the deck in their favor. But the poor get poorer because they would rather bitch about everything instead of making it for themselves. There are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule, but a large portion of the people that have money got it because they earned it…or they were better at something than the majority of the rest of the population.

I really wish that I could help out the truly needy with gov’t programs. However, its the people that leech the system that makes me support just about EVERY gov’t reduction project.

Raekwon says:

Re: Re: Glad to see you go

Glad to see me go? Why’s that can’t handle someone with an opposing viewpoint? For all those people merely “bitching”, as you so tactfully put it, there are about 1,000 people busting thier asses working 2 or more jobs just to get by. If you’re naive enough to think that the government doesn’t have a hand in keeping lower class citizens down, you’re stupid. It’s the way things have been since the middle ages.

Rich get richer, poor get sick, poor die.

Phiona says:

Pay for it

After the whole “wardrobe malfunction” fiasco, when things really started heating up with the FCC, we decided to get Satellite radio. Now, I don’t know if the FCC has any jusridiction over satellite radio, but we can absorb all the “indecency” we can handle, for a low monthly fee.

The way I see it, all of it is just like censorship on the internet. No one put a gun to your head and forced you to view that webpage, tv channel, radio station, etc…If you CHOSE to view/listen to it, and it offended you…..well, that was your choice.

Censor yourself and stop censoring me. That’s my stand.

Monarch says:

Why is it that people call what goes on in everyday life with the majority of people in this county, when aired on TV or Radio “Questionable, Borderline Indecent, or otherwise” ?

I gues it’s “FOR THE KIDS!”

F*CK THE KIDS. If the parents can’t keep the KIDS watching Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, throw the DAMN TV away!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Agreed...but

I agree that the parents should be involved and keep their kids away from questionable content. However, that still doesn’t mean that we should let anything go…

Decency SHOULD be enforced. Now, the problem is what is decent and what is not. Well, the way it SHOULD work is that you elect officials who share your views…when that happens then they will vote in ways similar to your thoughts/opinions.

Bob says:

THe funny thing is these people that bitch about sex/violence being fined and or censored would be the first ones to bitch and call for fines if someone started a White entertainment TV station or if CBS were to play Song of the South which is a DISNEY movie. Either censor everything or nothing but lets stop whining. You can still buy DVDs that are uncensored andpay for Premium stations like HBO which is what I do!!

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