The Federal Communications Commission and broadcasting companies have been in a constant limbo as to the definition of what is or isn’t considered indecent for live air feeds. Thursday, Mel Karmazin, the president of Viacom, addressed 180 radio executives of Infinity Broadcasting and informed them of the company’s new “zero-tolerance” policy as it pertains to questionable material. This new approach may seem extreme when so many shows have gotten away with so much in the past, however, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and it would appear the broadcasters are finally getting the message.
According to the New York Post, Karmazin threatened the executives of Infinity with a blunt, “Don’t screw up.” Infinity is the parent company behind some of the more outrageous “shock jocks” like Howard Stern.
The Post reported Karmazin as warning the executives that they would be fired without notice if they did not comply. “This company won’t be a poster child for indecency,” he reportedly said.
Apparently, following the warning from Karmazin, Infinity executives issued a memo to all stations to monitor everything that was aired and to “take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that the programming is not even arguably indecent,” the Post reported.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, FCC chairman Michael Powell vowed to aggressively enforce indecency guidelines, which include greater fine amounts. Powell was apparently under pressure to do so from the White House and Congress.
Since the FCC and the broadcasters haven’t been able to see eye to eye on the issue of what is or is not indecent, the rule of thumb has been “when in doubt leave it out,” according to The Post.
NextMedia Group, the Denver-based owner of several media outlets, sent out a similar memo to its own broadcasters according to the Times. “Just don’t use any word you wouldn’t say in front of your 7-year-old child,” the memo reportedly stated.
Karmazin also warned executives to make examples out of any violators of the FCC’s intentions. Last month, Tampa Bay’s own local “Bubba the Love Sponge” show met with the largest fine in FCC history for continuing to offend listeners — so it would appear that Viacom’s actions are warranted.
While it is unfortunate that no set guideline has been agreed upon, it is about time that radio executives are held accountable for material that has no business being broadcast at times when young listeners can tune in. At the same time, Viacom should be careful not to encroach on genuine free speech as talk shows are one of the last bastions of criticism and discussion that remain.