- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 26, 2004

The recent record-setting $2 million settlement between Clear Channel Communications Inc. and the Federal Communications Commission shouldn’t surprise those cognizant of the federal government’s increasing regulatory grip over the affairs of businesses and citizens.

What is surprising — well, actually disturbing — is the multitude of people who would agree with such a settlement and the charges that led to it. At issue were on-air remarks earlier this year by Howard Stern — deemed “indecent” by both Clear Channel Communications and the federal government. What is truly “indecent” or “improper” is the mere existence of a regulatory entity — the FCC — that seeks and succeeds in dictating the content of broadcast communications. A brief look at the FCC’s history reveals a merely bad communications gatekeeper transformed into a much worse content czar.

The year 1927 was filled with events that would leave an indelible mark on millions of lives in America and around the world. It was the year Sidney Poitier and Stan Getz were born and that saw the destruction of the “Great Mississippi Flood,” the opening of the Holland Tunnel, and the first trans-atlantic telephone call (from New York to London). It was also the year the Radio Act of 1927 became law — which laid the groundwork for today’s FCC. Ratified by President Calvin Coolidge — a Republican whose Inauguration was the first broadcast on radio, the Radio Act of 1927 led to formation of the Federal Radio Commission, created to license broadcasters and ostensibly reduce radio interference.

This legislation superseded the Radio Act of 1912 — giving regulatory authority over radio communication to the Commerce Department and the Interstate Commerce Commission — and first ushered in censorship by prohibiting utterance of any “obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication.”

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress continued the assault on free speech and to increase regulatory constraints via the Communications Act of 1934 — which replaced the Federal Radio Commission with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

though the act remains the foundation of the regulatory authority of the FCC, it has undergone a number of amendments — most notably one that led to creation of “public” television, and the Cable Act of 1984.

As new communications technologies emerged, so too did efforts by Congress to restrict content and increase the FCC hegemony over communication in America. One such example is the Communications Decency Act, which criminalized the use of computers to display “indecent” material, unless the content provider “effective” method is used to prohibit access to that material to anyone under age 18.

Although this and portions of the act were invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1997 as a violation of the First Amendment, efforts have continued by Congress and state legislatures over the years to restrict Internet content — among other media.

The FCC regulates all non-federal government use of the radio spectrum — which includes radio and television broadcasting, all interstate telecommunications, and all international communications whose origin or destination is the United States. Its primary method of enforcement was once merely the revocation of licenses, as fines were apparently ineffective. However, and perhaps sensing the impending litigation, the FCC, with continual congressional assistance, emphasizes license revocation less and seeks to increase maximum fines into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per utterance of anything deemed “indecent.” Since the Supreme Court has already ruled the FCC has authority to place restrict some content, don’t expect any successful attempts to cut off any of the FCC’s regulatory appendages any time soon.

So there you have it — another chapter, decades in the making, of the incessant reduction of freedom. As usual, free speech has taken a back seat to the often well-intentioned but usually misguided attempts to impose a perception of morality on the public. Given the widespread support these attempts have enjoyed, it is apparent good parenting and monitoring one’s own children are tasks best left to government.

I guess it is too burdensome for a parent nowadays to monitor what their children listen to or watch. Moreover, it seems quite a few are unable to locate the television, radio or computer’s off button. When many such individuals or groups fail to accomplish their agenda on their own — they simply run to mommy and daddy government to make it all better.


Mr. Turner is a member of the Republican Liberty Caucus and the Project 21 Advisory Council of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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