A group representing more than 16,000 black and Hispanic churches has urged federal media regulators to reject the merger of XM Satellite Radio Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., citing its objections to a segment of Sirius shock jock Howard Stern’s show in which audio clips of country singer Dolly Parton were manipulated into racist and sexually vulgar comments.
In a June 21 letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, the National Black Church Initiative said, “There is no ‘public interest’ in allowing Mr. Stern a larger platform to spew his filth.”
The group cites a May 6 show in which Mr. Stern aired clips of Miss Parton apparently using racial slurs and describing vulgar sexual acts, mentioning other celebrities including Kenny Rogers, Linda Ronstadt, Burt Reynolds and Johnny Carson. The sound bites are manipulations of an audio-book recording by Miss Parton.
The incident is hardly the first time Mr. Stern has sparked outrage for lewd comments. But since he left broadcast radio in 2006 - after signing a five-year, $500 million contract with Sirius - his show is no longer subject to federal indecency standards. Regardless, the National Black Church Initiative is using the clip to ask the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to urge federal media regulators to reject the deal outright.
“The notion that Mr. Stern, through the proposed monopoly-merger of Sirius and XM Satellite Radio, may soon have twice the spectrum to disseminate such despicable content is simply disgracefully,” wrote the Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the group.
The pending merger between XM and Sirius, announced in February 2007, was approved without conditions by federal antitrust officials in March. The deal is awaiting the green light of the FCC, whose determination hinges on whether it would be in the public interest.
Mr. Martin, a Republican, earlier this month announced his support for the merger after XM and Sirius agreed to a number of conditions, including a three-year price freeze and leasing 8 percent of their combined channels for minority-owned programming and noncommercial programming. The agency’s remaining commissioners, two Republicans and two Democrats, have yet to publicly disclose their intentions.
Members of the CBC had previously called for 20 percent of channels to be set aside for minority programmers.
Calls to the offices of CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Michigan Democrat, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, the North Carolina Democrat who chairs the CBC’s working group on satellite radio, were not returned Wednesday.
FCC spokesman Robert Kenney said the agency has received the letter, which is being reviewed by the chairman’s office.
A spokesman for Sirius did not respond to a request for comment.
Communications lawyer Harry Cole dismissed objections over the content of Mr. Stern’s show as “raising no substantive issues.”
“This is a satellite, subscription service we’re talking about, as opposed to over-the-air broadcast, which is subject to a different set of standards, a different set of rules. That’s one of the reasons, as I understand it, Stern left for satellite - because he would not be constantly concerned about whether the FCC would come after him for alleged indecency violations,” said Mr. Cole of Arlington-based Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC. Mr. Cole briefly performed on Mr. Stern’s show in the early 1980s.
The merger between XM and Sirius has been opposed by consumer advocates such as the Consumer Federation of America, anti-media consolidation groups including Free Press, and traditional broadcasters led by the National Association of Broadcasters.