- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

The Federal Communications Commission fined Clear Channel Communications Inc. $247,500 yesterday for a sexually explicit interview on Washington-area disc jockey Elliot Segal’s radio show a year ago.

In the segment, a member of the “Elliot in the Morning” cast interviewed a caller about adult film star Ron Jeremy. The exchange included references to oral sex, group sex and masturbation, according to a transcript from the FCC.

The segment aired March 13, 2003. It was heard in the Washington area on WWDC-FM (101.1), which produces Mr. Segal’s program, as well as Clear Channel stations in Richmond and Bethany Beach, Del.

The three stations aired the segment that morning, then used it during promotional segments that afternoon and evening, according to the FCC.

In a statement yesterday, the FCC said the segment was “designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners.” The agency said the broadcast amounted to nine violations of indecency and that it will seek the maximum $27,500 fine for each violation.

Clear Channel has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal it. A company executive said it will not fire or suspend Mr. Segal over the incident because it occurred before the company adopted its strict new policy against airing indecent material.

One FCC commissioner, Michael J. Copps, a Democrat, dissented from the agency’s decision. He said the agency should have held a hearing to consider revoking Clear Channel’s operating license in light of its repeat violations.

“I am discouraged that my colleagues would not join me in taking a firm stand here against indecency on the airwaves. The time has come for the commission to send a message that it is serious about enforcing the indecency laws of our country. That message has yet to go forth,” he said in a statement.

This month, Clear Channel paid a record $755,000 fine, which primarily stemmed from the on-air antics of a Florida host it fired in February. The company also has paid at least $61,000 in fines stemming from Mr. Segal’s program, according to the FCC.

Andrew W. Levin, a Clear Channel executive vice president, said the San Antonio company has started an investigation to confirm the segment failed to meet the FCC’s standards of decency. He was unable to say how long the investigation will last.

“If the FCC is right, we will live with the consequences. We’ll pay the piper,” Mr. Levin said.

Under FCC rules, over-the-air television and radio stations cannot broadcast material containing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children might tune in. The FCC does not regulate content that airs on cable and satellite television and satellite radio.

Clear Channel — the nation’s largest radio chain with 1,225 stations — adopted the broadcasting industry’s toughest policy against airing indecent material Feb. 25.

According to the company’s guidelines, it will automatically suspend anyone the FCC 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.

Clear Channel also 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.”

Mr. Segal will not be suspended for this incident because it took place before Clear Channel adopted its zero-tolerance policy last month, Mr. Levin said. “We’re not applying our policy retroactively. That wouldn’t be fair.”

The company has dropped Howard Stern from six of its stations because his program featured a lewd racial and sexual discussion that took place before its “zero-tolerance” policy took effect. It also fired a Florida disc jockey last month whose program was largely responsible for the $755,000 fine in January.

Mr. Segal could not be reached yesterday. In an interview on Clear Channel’s policy earlier this week, he told The Washington Times: “I don’t feel like I’m in danger because at the end of the day, I don’t think my show is indecent.”

Clear Channel has paid fines that stemmed from Mr. Segal’s on-air antics at least twice previously: A $55,000 penalty for a May 2002 incident in which he quizzed Arlington high school students about their sex lives, and a $6,000 fine for a November 2001 segment in which he aired a Kensington woman’s telephone answering machine message without her permission.

According to FCC sources, it took one year for the agency to issue its latest fine against Clear Channel because officials have to conduct multiple reviews before it can determine whether an incident fails to meet its standards for decency.

The agency’s crackdown on material it deems indecent picked up momentum after singer Justin Timberlake uncovered part of pop diva Janet Jackson’s right breast during the televised Super Bowl halftime show Feb. 1. The brief exposure sparked a national debate over indecency on television and radio and generated more than 200,000 complaints to the FCC.

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday that raises the maximum fine for a broadcast license holder from $27,500 to $500,000 and the fine for performers from $11,000 to $500,000.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate. President Bush has endorsed increasing fines against broadcasters.

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