Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Howard's Quandary (and mine, too)

Howard Stern recently endorsed Sen. John Kerry for President, which he’s more than entitled to do.

Sen. Kerry participated in a near-unanimous vote yesterday to increase the penalties for violations by television and radio broadcasters of the prohibitions against transmission of obscene, indecent and profane language. Which he is entitled to do (even if he has been absent from the Senate much of this year).

I am of two-minds on this issue. Back in my campus DJ days (or more often than not, daze), we had to apply for an official FCC license (even though we were legally allowed to broadcast no further than the campus fence-line). We took that license in all seriousness, and while we were reasonably certain there were people listening to our music, we had little optimism that many people actually *heard* what we were saying when we took mic. Anyone who ‘crossed the line’ was chastised by station management; we ran the place as if it was a 50,000 watt station when it was actually 1/1000 as powerful.

So I am well aware of how much a privilege it is to use the airways. But I am also aware that words are an expression of ideas, and that there is an ever-present danger of ideas being stifled (or censored). I have no problem with the airing of certain words/ideas at age-appropriate times, but I do have a problem with television re-runs of programs that were once aired at 8:00pm or later being shown at 5:30 or earlier (see FRIENDS, NYPD Blue). Lionel often spoke of his aversion to having his viewing habits curbed by a mythological 12 year old being possibly exposed to something untoward, and while I respect him and his view, I have two children whom I believe get exposed to too much stuff even as I monitor their viewing habits (see commercials for CELALIS, HERPES medication, etc.).

Howard Stern, in my humble opinion was far funnier in his younger days than he is now (then again, I was far younger back then, too). He’s entitled to have his show as far-out as he chooses, but I believe there ought to be certain boundaries; on the free airways, I believe it would be hard to find many who wouldn’t agree.

Are fines the answer? Perhaps. One day when satellite radio is as common as CD players in cars, this argument will become moot, as the for-fee service is free of the FCC restrictions on obscenities. Howard may well blaze a trail to the satellite market, but I doubt it can fund his lucrative contract, at least not yet. So for now, he’ll have to curb his tongue just a bit.

But keep on being outrageous; for first thing that is in danger is anything in the broad range of comedy. After that is political speech, and we’ve already lost a lot in that arena already.

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