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Bill to stop coarse language on radio limits freedom of speech

On Thursday, a Senate committee approved a bill calling for an increase in regulations for what they see as indecent radio broadcasts. Sen. Fritz Hollings, D., South Carolina, initiated the amendment to the Federal Communications Commission after he perceived a January 2002 broadcast by Detroit’s WKRK-FM as particularly obscene. Currently, the FCC is charging only one fine against a radio station, regardless of how many people are speaking. Hollings is pushing to make alaw that separate fines could be issued against each person who utters obscenities of any kind while on a radio show — even a listener who calls in.

Hollings said, he “wouldn’t publicly repeat that language, indecency and filth myself,” but he seemed to have issues with four lettered words and other course language used on the air.

The bill will require the station to undergo a revocation hearing. This means not only are station’s opinions under scrutiny, but other stations could suffer because of it. The popular Detroit radio station is now in danger of being shut down completely after the show in January 2002 offended the senator’s ear. Infinity Broadcasting, the parent company to WKRK-FM, has issued a response claiming that the FCC is at risk of violating the Constitution with the bill. The First Amendment allows free speech, and what better way to voice that right than on the airwaves of a popular radio show? Fining the listeners would violate those rights.

Several Republican senators have opposed the bill, stating that if the listeners have a problem with what the stations are saying, then they should be the ones to handle it. WKRK has changed management since Hollings first made the statement about the alleged obscenities, which would seem to be an appropriate, as well as drastic, way of handling such a problem. Nevertheless, the bill continues its trip to the Capitol.

Giving the government the right to censor radio stations is the wrong approach. If the bill is passed, anyone who wants to voice an opinion on a radio station is at risk of being fined if someone else disapproves of the way it was said. Radio should belong to its community and that community should determine the regulations that govern it. With major religious, moral and cultural differences across the country, no one is better suited to determine what is or is not appropriate than the community itself.