Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The FCC is the Real Culprit

In response to a comment on the last post, I suppose the next logical step is to point out that NOW is really only taking advantage of the power given to the FCC to censor the airwaves. In reality the entire argument is extraneous to the real issue which is censorship. Eventually it also turns into thought control. If we can stop people from ever hearing about breast implants, people will stop getting them, and then we will all be back to the pre-breast implant days. After all, isn't that what NOW really wants when they launch a campaign for "Love your Body"? They feel there is something "degrading" about the procedure. I have not cared to see if this is their policy on all cosmetic surgery. The point is that it isn't reason enough to disallow all contests whose reward is any sort of cosmetic surgery. And the radio is no different as a forum just because you can hear it. It isn't less entitled to freedom of speech anymore than TV is. Clear Channel is widely criticized for their political connections and special privileges which tend to be homogeneous and biased. However, the real culprit here is the FCC, and the fact that the government is allowed to regulate free speech in these mediums at all. In order to be successful, Clear Channel has to be homogeneous, it has to lobby Congress, because that is how the system is set up. If they actually had to compete in a free market without government subsidies then who knows if they would even be successful at all.

Each year since the early days of radio, every broadcast station must apply to the FCC for permission to use the airwaves. In exchange for their licenses, broadcasters must promise to serve the "public interest." Stations that the FCC regards as having failed to do so can be fined, or even shut down, at the FCC's sole discretion.

The putative justification for the FCC's regulation of broadcasters is that the airwaves are public property. But just as the government does not own--and so has no legitimate control over--the presses of the New York Times, so it has no business regulating what may be broadcast over airwaves. The airwaves, which would be useless without the transmission networks created by radio and television stations, belong to the individuals and companies that developed them. Broadcasters should not have to plead to the authorities for annual licenses, any more than a homeowner should have to beg for an annual license to use the patch of land he has developed.
But let Howard Stern offend a listener, and Clear Channel is hammered with over a million dollars in fines. So far, only "indecency" has been targeted by the FCC's crackdown--but politicians on both sides of the aisle have begun whispering demands to censor PBS or the Fox News Channel, on the grounds that their alleged biases violate the "public interest." Both the liberals, with their political correctness, and the conservatives, with their puritanical religious ethic, claim to speak for the "public interest." Can it be long before the two sides begin the battle over which ideas and values Americans are allowed to see and hear on-air?

As the FCC wields its club ever more fiercely, broadcasters are running scared. Clear Channel stations have dropped Howard Stern and other "shock jocks." Skittish station-managers have bleeped out words like "urinate," "damn," and "orgy" from the Rush Limbaugh program. Most ominous, The National Association of Broadcasters convened a "Summit on Responsible Programming" to define industry-wide standards of self-censorship.

America was founded on the freedom of speech--on the right and responsibility of the individual to decide what to say, and what to listen to. Yet in the name of protecting ourselves from being offended--and almost without noticing it--we are well on the way to surrendering that crucial right to the control of the omnipotent state. -from ARI


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