The front page of the Sunday New York Times featured a story titled "Shock Radio Shrugs at Imus’s Fall And Roughs Up the Usual Victims." The story reports on radio station talk programming and how the Times’ reporters found numerous instances of what they refer to as "coarse, sexually explicit banter" and "meanness." The Times reports that these programs could lead the announcers and the stations owners into dangerous territory – either from FCC fines or through advertiser cancellations. The Times also correctly indicates that the FCC usually does not initiate actions against such programs based on its own monitoring, but instead based on listener complaints – almost an open invitation for such complaints to be filed based on the paper’s report. With reports such as this hitting the popular press, after being brought to the forefront of public attention by the Imus affair, and earlier this year by the Sacramento contest gone wrong for the the Wii (here), can calls for regulation be far behind?
The Times own report asks the question as to whether the FCC or Congress will step up regulation in light of the Imus affair. Interestingly, it avoids the questions raised by its own reports as to where lines would be drawn in any regulations. For instance, in the story, the Times identified some programming that might cause concern under FCC indecency guidelines depending on the context in which the cited material was used, the report also cites several instances which assuredly do not fit within any FCC prohibitions. In fact, some of the samples cited by the article do not seem much more "coarse" than what you might find on some Sunday morning or cable television news-talk programming. For instance, the Times cites, seemingly as an example of "crude remarks," statements made on the Mancow syndicated radio talk programming, where Mancow allegedly asserted that radical Muslims "would not stop until they had flattened American religion like a steamroller" and then went on to say that he didn’t want his children to be killed or "brainwashed" into Islamic beliefs. While I’m sure that the Mancow language was not the same as that which might be used on a political talk program – aren’t similar expressions about the goals of radical Islam often aired on such news talk programs – often by members of the political establishment? Would the Times want to regulate the discussion of ideas based on how or where they were expressed? In any content regulation, lines are hard to draw.
The report also highlights the discussion of sexual subjects on Spanish language stations – suggesting that these stations may have indecent content that the FCC is not finding.
With the New York Times and other publications focusing on content on broadcast stations, will more regulation follow? As we have warned in connection with so many other broadcast programming issues, with the upcoming election, be alert for the possibility of action in Congress.