- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Radio talk-show host Howard Stern raged last week over the Federal Communications Commission's moves to mop up the airwaves. "Let's take me off the air for three years and see if America changes. Let's see if America gets cleaner," he challenged. His outrage is justified.

The FCC has bullied Mr. Stern in the past and again is gunning for his type of outspoken broadcasts. On April 3, the regulatory agency penalized Detroit station WKRK-FM $27,500 for a talk show that discussed sexual issues. This crackdown is part of an FCC agenda to step up investigations of supposed indecency on the airwaves. That's not all the commission is up to. Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and Republican Kevin Martin who tends to side with the Democrats are pushing another initiative to pave the way for the government to intrude on commercial programming: a mandated "family hour." We don't dare hazard a guess what Washington bureaucrats might legislate this hour should highlight.

What really is getting under the New York radio host's thick skin is that Infinity Broadcasting, the sanctioned radio giant, is also his employer. Infinity executives reportedly have warned Mr. Stern that further infractions of decency laws could endanger the company's broadcast licenses, which are issued by the FCC an apparent hint for him to tone down his ribaldry a bit. As it stands, Mr. Stern has a problem with his jittery broadcaster. But it does seem to us that undue pressure has been exerted by the FCC on Infinity to alter its content which should be none of the government's business.

On these matters, we prefer to let the private sector work things out rather than encourage restrictions on free speech. Mr. Stern sticks to terms and descriptions of things that can be found in a regular dictionary, and while some people might disagree with the subject matter, his program pales in comparison to the regular fare easily accessible on cable and elsewhere. Moreover, Mr. Stern provides refreshing honesty and insight into the perhaps embarrassing for some sexual thoughts and habits of modern American men. The best way for the public to silence a voice they find offensive is to turn the dial. If the FCC needs something to do, perhaps it might work harder to deregulate the airwaves instead of censoring them.

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