- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Clear Channel Communications Inc. has adopted the broadcasting industry’s toughest policy against airing indecent material, but some critics charge the radio giant with unfair enforcement of the rules.

The San Antonio company last month dropped Howard Stern’s syndicated show from the six Clear Channel stations that carried it because the program featured a lewd sexual discussion and a caller to the show used a racial slur.

The day after Clear Channel dropped the program, a comedian on the syndicated “Tom Joyner Morning Show” used racial terms similar to those that aired on Mr. Stern’s show.

Clear Channel carries Mr. Joyner’s program on its stations in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Antonio and other cities. It has not pulled the show.

“I’m a fan of Tom Joyner, but I was deeply offended by that skit. It seems like a double standard to drop Howard Stern but not take action against Tom Joyner,” said Nathaniel Livingston Jr., a community activist in Cincinnati who has called on Clear Channel to punish Mr. Joyner.

According to Clear Channel’s policy, the company will automatically suspend anyone whom the Federal Communications Commission says has put indecent material on the air. If the FCC or Clear Channel determines the host aired indecent material, the company will fire the person.

“If there is a notice of apparent liability filed with the FCC, we will absolutely suspend the person responsible,” said Andrew W. Levin, a Clear Channel executive vice president.

The company yanked Mr. Stern’s program when it learned a parents’ advocacy group had filed a complaint at the FCC about the segment that featured the sex talk and racist slur. Mr. Levin said he was unaware of any such complaints filed against Mr. Joyner’s program, although Mr. Livingston said he has complained to the regulatory agency.

An FCC source said it has received complaints about programs on Clear Channel stations since the company’s policy against indecency took effect.

An agency spokeswoman said it does not comment on potential fines or complaints. The FCC is said to be working through a long backlog of complaints that have been in the pipeline for years.

“It’s a difficult line Clear Channel has drawn in the sand for itself. They’re entitled to adopt this kind of policy, but it remains to be seen if it’s a good strategy,” said Joel Denver, president and publisher of AllAccess.com, an online industry trade journal.

Clear Channel announced its anti-indecency policy Feb. 25, the day after it fired Florida disc jockey Todd Clem, whose “Bubba the Love Sponge” program drew a record $715,000 fine from the FCC in January.

In addition to suspending or firing employees responsible for airing indecent material, Clear Channel has said it will rewrite contracts with its hosts and announcers to ensure they “share financial responsibility if they utter indecent material on the air.” Syndicated hosts will be held to the same standard as Clear Channel employees, executives said.

Infinity Broadcasting Corp., which produces Mr. Stern’s program, adopted a similar zero-tolerance policy against indecency in the wake of singer Janet Jackson’s breast exposure during the Super Bowl halftime show.

The Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would increase from $27,500 to $500,000 the maximum amount the FCC can fine broadcasters for airing indecent material. The House is expected to approve a similar bill today.

Under FCC rules, radio stations and over-the-air television stations cannot broadcast material containing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in.

The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday that the FCC is preparing new fines against Infinity for material that Mr. Stern aired.

The popular host predicted last week that Infinity will fire him, although he backed off those statements on Tuesday. Mr. Stern has said the Bush administration is targeting him because he has criticized the president.

Since its policy took effect, Clear Channel has been criticized because it continues to employ hosts who have been accused of pushing the boundaries of taste, such as Elliot Segal, who hosts the morning show on the company’s rock music station in the Washington area, WWDC-FM (101.1).

Mr. Levin said Clear Channel will not hold employees responsible if they aired indecent material before the new policy was adopted. “We’re looking forward, not backward,” he said.

In an interview, Mr. Segal said he is “more cognizant” of Clear Channel’s new policies, adding that he is hitting the “dump button” more to censor potentially offensive remarks from callers and guests.

“I don’t feel like I’m in danger because at the end of the day, I don’t think my show is indecent,” Mr. Segal said.

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