- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

From combined dispatches

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued a fine for a broadcast of shock-jock Howard Stern’s radio show and ruled that an expletive uttered by rock singer Bono on NBC violated broadcast standards.

The FCC, continuing its crackdown on broadcast indecency, proposed fining Infinity Broadcasting the maximum $27,500 for a Stern show broadcast on WKRK-FM in Detroit.

The FCC also overruled its staff and said that Bono’s expletive during the 2003 Golden Globe Awards program was indecent and profane, but issued no fine.

FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell had asked his fellow commissioners to overturn the FCC enforcement bureau’s finding.

The FCC also proposed fining a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications $55,000 for a broadcast on two Florida radio stations where the host conducted an interview with a couple apparently having sex.

The fines are the latest in a stepped-up campaign by the FCC to crack down on indecency. Critics have said the commission failed to aggressively enforce rules, leading to a coarsening of the airwaves.

Federal law bars radio stations and over-the-air TV channels from airing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels or satellite radio.

The FCC received hundreds of complaints about the Golden Globes broadcast after Bono, the lead singer of the Irish group U2, said, “This is really, really, [expletive] brilliant.”

The enforcement bureau said in October that Bono’s comment was not indecent or obscene because he did not use the word to describe a sexual act. “The performer used the word … as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation,” the bureau said.

The FCC said, though, that it will change federal case law to prohibit a single profane expletive such as that used by Bono. Federal rules in effect at the time of Bono’s performance last year did not bar one-time use of such language.

To avoid a repeat incident, NBC aired this year’s Golden Globes broadcast on a 10-second delay. ABC did the same with its telecast of the Academy Awards.

In a show last week, Mr. Stern, who has as many as 18 million listeners a week, said he expected Infinity, which is owned by Viacom, to be fined and compared Mr. Powell to a communist Chinese leader.

“Chairman Mao, I mean Chairman Powell, gets to decide what’s offensive to him and to fine me,” said Mr. Stern, 50. He does not face a fine in the FCC action.

The FCC also said that Clear Channel Communications Inc.’s Capstar unit faces a $55,000 fine for indecency.

Clear Channel, the nation’s largest radio chain, last month took Mr. Stern off the air in six cities.

Mr. Stern’s shock-jock show, which is produced by Infinity, continues to be carried in 35 cities, including New York and Los Angeles. Mr. Stern has accounted for half the $4 million in indecency fines proposed by the Federal Communications Commission since 1990, a nonprofit research group said.

“Stern’s obviously a target,” said John Dunbar, project manager at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington. “He’s been on the radio for over 20 years with essentially the same kind of show.”

Infinity and Clear Channel accounted for 86 percent of the proposed fines, the two-month study found.

Infinity, the biggest U.S. radio network after Clear Channel, was fined 14 times for Mr. Stern’s show between 1990 and 1998 for a total of $2 million, the study found. That includes the biggest fine ever imposed by the FCC, for $1.7 million in 1995.

Infinity, which was bought by Viacom from Westinghouse Electric Corp. in 1999, accounts for 59 percent of the total proposed fines. That includes a $302,500 fine for a contest on the “Opie and Anthony Show” that challenged couples to have sex at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

“These companies wouldn’t put up with the shock jocks if they weren’t bringing in some cash,” Mr. Dunbar said. The center is an investigative journalism organization funded largely by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and others.

Clear Channel accounts for 27 percent of all proposed fines, including a $755,000 penalty levied earlier this month for its “Bubba the Love Sponge” show in Florida.

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