Sunday, July 18, 2004

Free speech is expensive

The Boston Globe Magazine has an interesting in-depth story about radio censorship and the re-energized post-Nipplegate FCC crusade to purge our nation's airwaves of offensive material. The article brings up the excellent point that entertainment radio is being held to a much higher standard than political talk radio, and that all radio is being held to a much higher standard than television.

We need a good debate here (at least to keep me entertained), so I'll ask the obvious questions. Why should radio be "cleaner" than television? What does the FCC hope to gain from its aggressive fines? If some Americans are offended by the language they hear on Howard Stern's program, why the fuck don't they change the station? And why is it that the same conservatives who ordinarily take the second amendment as sacrosanct have such little respect for the first?

5 Comments:

Blogger Eric said...

There is the issue of radio stations (and some tv channels) going out over the airwaves (a shared resource for which the government issues licenses), while cable channels and newspapers use copper and paper that are privately owned.

I wish both radio and TV were more decent. I agree the uncertainty may be problematic, but I'm not sure there's an easy way around that.

I find offensive language offensive, so I don't intentionally tune in to such things. But I also don't like encountering such things while crusing the chanels or in commercials during a program I'm watching.

I agree that people have the right to think, say, and write offensive things. Some people probably find some things I say offensive. But when public resources (e.g., radio frequencies, salaries, buildings, streets, parks) are being used, then I think it's reasonable for there to be some standards.

7/19/2004 03:37:00 AM  
Blogger Mwal said...

The data do not support the conclusion that the FCC holds radio to a higher standard than broadcast TV.

There are way more radio shows than broadcast TV shows. Talk radio is extremely controversial by design. Broadcast TV is almost always recorded, giving a very high bleeping-efficiency. So it's not surprising that radio gets more fines.

As for the first & second amendment: it's totally hard to amend the constitution. This is good because it prevents all kinds of crazy amendments, but it's bad because we're left to argue endlessly about how language from 1789 ought to be applied to then-unanticipated situations (radio spectrum, modern weapons, etc.). Supreme Court rulings do establish a somewhat stable baseline for legal rulings, but, as in this case, it is not enough to satisfy people... nor should it be. This problem will continue to get worse over the next 100 years with the further development of society and technology.

But it should be noted that disputes are really over matters of degree. The whole 'sacrosanct' business is often used as a point of contention but is generally not anyone's actual goal. NRA folks object to regulations on semi-automatic weapons, but do not usually object to the ban on fully-automatic weapons. Vincent objects to regulation of certain broadcast content. But I presume that he does not object to regulation of the many people who would like to broadcast using various RF bands that are important to astronomy.

7/19/2004 03:50:00 AM  
Blogger acg said...

I guess the problem is that different people are offended by different stuff and the rules aren't very clear about what's allowed and what isn't. You can offend fewer people if you make something really bland (although I don't think it's possible to make something that no one will be offended by), but then people will think it's boring.

7/19/2004 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger finou said...

I kind of agree with Mwal. I don't think that radio is being held to a higher standard than non-cable television. In fact, I tend to think the opposite...
I think it is because there are a lot more radio shows than tv shows and that tv shows are more often pre-recorded. You can usually turn on the radio and definitely find stuff that is offensive and would never ever be shown on any noncable TV channels but usually that's because it's a radio show where they are interviewing some loudmouth-type person live on the air. Also, stuff does occasionally get through on TV during a live broadcast but then people (and the FCC) usually make a much bigger deal of it than if something gets through on a radio show...

7/19/2004 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

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7/19/2004 07:47:00 PM  

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