Local radio station WXTB-97.9 FM Clearwater made history Tuesday by being fined the largest amercement in the history of the Federal Communications Commission. Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem faces 26 fines of $27,500 for seven segments that aired in 2001. The segments allegedly featured cartoon characters discussing sex and drug use, male callers explicitly describing their sex organs and lengthy segments on masturbation. While it is important that the First Amendment is protected, it is equally important that it is not abused. In an age where sex and violence is found everywhere, it is understandable that the FCC is choosing to make an example of the “shock jock.”
According to The St. Petersburg Times, Clem’s show was brought to the FCC’s attention after a Jacksonville man called “98 Rock’s” station manager and asked that the show be removed. “I was angry that people would be so irresponsible, so mindless of the welfare of the young folks that listened to the station,” Douglas Vanderlaan, a father of teenagers told the Times.
Clem has previously been under legal fire for animal cruelty when he broadcast the castration of a pig. The Times also reports that “Bubba the Love Sponge” was the center of three previous indecency violations, out of multiple ones that Clear Channel has been accused of. “How many strikes are we going to give them?” said Commissioner Michael J. Copps in a statement made Tuesday.
The Communications Act of 1934 mandates in Section 309 that, “Broadcasters operate in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity.” In addition, the criminal statute Section 1464 officially defines indecency as, “Language or material that depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs.” When a disc-jockey is somewhat notorious for pushing the envelope in these ways, he should expect legal repercussions. It should neither come as a surprise that the FCC chooses to allow these violations to accrue in order to make an example of the station.
Jeremy Lipschultz, author of Broadcast Indecency: FCC Regulation and the First Amendment, wrote that the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case FCC v. Pacifica established 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. as the hours when questionable material can be broadcast. Clem’s show airs from 5:30 a.m to 10 a.m, not only cutting across the period protected by FCC mandates but also at a time when children could potentially be listening.
As long as Clem’s show airs in its current timeslot, the FCC is correct to take punitive measures against the show.