Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hey, FCC! Keep Your Puritanical Paws Off My Cable and Satellite Radio & TV!

Threat to Expand 'Indecency' Standards Will Violate Rights of Adults to Enjoy Mature Programming They're Directly Paying For

By Skeeter Sanders

On Friday, December 16, America's most notorious "shock jock," Howard Stern, will broadcast his last show on over-the-air radio after more than 35 years of pushing the limits of what can and cannot be said on the airwaves.

Fed up with fighting the Federal Communications Commission over "indecency" on his show, Stern will take his hugely popular morning program to Sirius Satellite Radio on Monday, January 9, where for the first time in his long career, he'll be able to do what he wants to do on the radio completely uncensored.

Jerry Springer has already gained a foothold on the cable and satellite TV frontier, hosting an uncensored monthly pay-per-view version of his fight-filled daily syndicated show -- which after 15 years, is still one of the top 10 TV talk shows in the Nielsen ratings (Ironically, the master of "Trash TV" also hosts a much more staid daily radio talk show on the liberal Air America Radio Network).

New FCC Chairman Determined to "Clean Up" All TV and Radio

But if Kevin Martin, the new FCC chairman, has anything to say about it, Stern could have the plug pulled on his new, unshackled Sirius show. Springer could find himself having to either hit the bleep button and digitally pixilate women's breasts on his pay-per-views -- the same thing he does now on his daily show -- or halt them altogether.

Martin is putting the squeeze on the nation's biggest cable and satellite TV operators to curb the proliferation of sexually explicit and profane programming -- or else face the imposition of the same rules that restrict over-the-air TV broadcasters.

And he's doing it in spite of the fact that the FCC has no legal authority to regulate cable and satellite TV and radio programming. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that because cable and satellite subscribers are paying directly for such programming -- and have the technological ability to block their children from watching adult-oriented shows such as "South Park" -- cable and satellite TV and radio have the same full First Amendment protection as the print media and the Internet.

Nevertheless, Martin has served notice on Time Warner Inc. and Comcast Corp., the nation's two largest cable TV operators, that severe restrictions could be imposed on their planned joint acquisition of Adelphia Communications Inc., the bankrupt No. 3 cabler, if they don't take steps to "clean up" their programming.

While Martin is taking direct aim at the cable and satellite TV companies, there's little doubt in my mind that the two major satellite radio companies -- Sirius and XM -- will soon also come into the FCC chairman's crosshairs over their uncensored "satcasts" of Stern and his soon-to-be rivals, Opie and Anthony, respectively.

Martin Lobbying Congress to Put Cable and Satellite TV and Radio Under FCC Jurisdiction

If you live in the greater New York City area, then you certainly remember Opie and Anthony. They quickly landed their gig on XM after they were fired two years ago from New York's WNEW-FM in a headline-grabbing controversy over their airing of a stunt involving a couple allegedly having sex inside St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Since taking over the chairmanship of the FCC from Michael Powell in March, Martin, an ultraconservative Republican from North Carolina, has been waging a personal crusade against "indecency" on cable and satellite TV -- particularly the racy adult pay-per-view Playboy Channel and its sister network, Spice. Earlier this year, Adelphia announced that it was dropping Playboy and Spice from its channel lineup -- a move critics say was made under pressure from Martin.

Martin's wife, Catherine, is the chief public affairs strategist for Vice President Dick Cheney, according to the Los Angeles Times. And Martin has a powerful ally on Capitol Hill -- Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. For his part, Stevens held hearings on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, ostensibly to come up with ideas on how to protect children from "objectionable" TV programming.

Stevens was one of the main Senate sponsors of the Child Internet Protection Act, the highly controversial 1999 law that sought to force Internet service providers to block children from accessing adult Web sites. That law was subsequently challenged in and eventually struck down by the courts in 2002 as an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of adult Internet users.

In Their Zeal to Protect Kids, Martin and Stevens Trampling on Rights of Adults

Martin and Stevens need to be reminded in no uncertain terms that, in their zeal to protect children, they are unwittingly trying to force adults to watch only programs on cable and satellite TV and radio that they consider "child-safe" or "child-friendly" -- in clear defiance of the Supreme Court's ruling.

They also, obviously, haven't learned from past history. Remember the "Family Hour?" This was a standard that the Nixon-era FCC imposed on over-the-air TV in the 1970s requiring them to reserve the first hour of prime-time programming (8 9 p.m.ET/PT) for "child-safe and family-friendly" programming.

The major networks, backed by program producers, successfully sued to have the rule struck down by the Supreme Court, arguing that it amounted to coercion, since the FCC doesn't license networks but does license their local affiliate stations -- and the Nixon administration had openly sought to intimidate the networks by challenging the license renewals of their affiliates.

Campaign Is Part of a 50-Year-Old Right-Wing Vendetta Against CBS

And not just for "indecent" programming. CBS-owned and affiliated stations were particularly targeted for license-renewal challenges, in apparent retaliation for CBS News' relentlessly aggressive pursuit of the Watergate scandal. That, the justices ruled, clearly violated the First Amendment rights of CBS, the other networks and their stations.

Fast-forward to 2005. The FCC imposed a huge fine on CBS earlier this year over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during its live telecast of the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. Stern has been fined thousands of dollars for his program -- which happens to be produced and distributed by Infinity Broadcasting, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CBS in the vast Viacom media empire (Although on January 1, CBS will once again become an independent, stand-alone company).

And the president and CEO of Sirius is Mel Karmazin, the former head honcho of -- you guessed it -- CBS. Coincidence? You be the judge. But it's no secret that the right wing has had a vendetta against CBS for over 50 years, dating back to the legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow's 1954 expose of Sen. Joe McCarthy's anti-Communist witch-hunts (Brilliantly recaptured in the new George Clooney movie, "Good Night, and Good Luck.").

Make no mistake: If Martin and Stevens succeed in imposing indecency rules on cable and satellite TV and radio, not only would you no longer be able to watch the Playboy Channel or Jerry Springer uncensored on pay-per-view, but you won't get to hear Howard Stern uncensored on Sirius, either. Only the most naive would believe that Stern won't be the FCC chairman's next target.

Ironically, I seldom listen to Stern's show. When I lived in San Francisco back in the '80s, I found Stern's program downright boring compared local "shock jock" Alex Bennett, who routinely clobbered Stern in the Bay Area radio ratings (But hey, we're talking about San Francisco -- the bohemian capital of America -- where the locals consider anything originating from beyond "Baghdad-by-the-Bay" boring).

Where Do Washington Bureaucrats Get Off Telling You What to Watch or Listen To?

Unlike the programs on over-the-air broadcast TV and radio, which are paid for by advertisers (except, of course, noncommercial PBS and NPR), you pay for the programs you watch on cable and satellite TV. And you pay for the programs you hear on satellite radio. So where the hell does the head of the FCC get off telling you what you can or cannot watch on cable and satellite TV? You're paying to hear Howard Stern uncensored on Sirius, so where the hell does the head of the FCC get off telling you that you can't?

And these are the same people who rail against liberals and Democrats for creating what they call "the nanny state." Just who the hell do these hypocrites think they are? I'm a mature adult and I'll be damned if I'll let some blue-nosed bureaucrats from Washington, D.C. tell me that I can't watch the Playboy Channel or some other mature programming on cable and satellite TV which I'm paying for, or listen to uncensored radio shows on XM or Sirius -- which, again, I'm
paying for.

So my message to you, Mr. Martin, is straight and to the point: Keep your puritanical paws off my cable and satellite radio and TV!


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Volume I, Number 1
Copyright 2005, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.

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