Ernest Miller on the Clear Channel Fine

Ernest Miller goes line by line through Michael Powell’s statement about the Clear Channel fine for indecency. The main point he drums home is that we the public are not clear on what the offense was and it isn’t obvious that Clear Channel itself knows exactly what the violation was. He talks much in here about “chilling effects”, which I am observing myself in my dealings with college radio. There is a palpable feeling that one wrong word on the air can lead to the station getting fined out of existenced. Is this really what we would expect from a country “so free that others hate us for it?” It sounds like the opposite of freedom to me, like what you’d expect in the kind of repressive regimes that we stand against. Here’s an example of the commentary:

[from Powell’s statement]
Finally, the government gains an admission of responsibility from the licensee without going to the laborious and expensive process of prosecuting these actions in court.

[Miller’s response]
An admission of what, exactly? Could you clarify this for me? By the way, if, for some reason, the FCC terminates or breeches the agreement, the admission goes away like smoke in a breeze. Some admission. If it ever does end up in court it isn’t an admission after all.

And what about those courts, huh? First off, the FCC can issue final orders and they are only contested if Clear Channel insists on contesting them. If the case is solid, it shouldn’t take up too many resources to prosecute. In any case, given the potential size of the fines, court could actually be a profit center for the FCC. If the case is not solid, then the FCC can simply drop it (no harm, no foul).

It is, of course, in the Bush administration a terrible waste of resources anytime anybody tries to defend their rights against the government.

Want an example of the chilling effect? How about a radio station that no longer allows DJs to do their shows live but must have them prerecorded and preauthorized to be aired. Why?

Prompted by the Federal Communications Commission’s nationwide crackdown on broadcasting indiscretions, the University of Rochester’s radio station is no longer carrying live local programming.

Starting this week, all of the local programs on WRUR-FM (88.5) – from hip-hop shows to DJs spinning favorite college rock bands such as Franz Ferdinand – are pre-recorded.

And the tapes are screened prior to airing, said general manager Jared Lapin, 21, a senior from Larchmont, Westchester County.

WRUR has not received any FCC warnings but has had listener complaints “occasionally,” Lapin said. He declined to be more specific.

These are scary times we live in, when people live in fear that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time could ruin their life, business or organization. Is this liberty? We have to spend every day hearing that terrorists trying to kill us “because we love freedom and they don’t.” Is Michael Powell trying to protect us by removing enough liberty from the public sphere that they no longer bother?