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Decency Standards?

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Do you have an obligation to your children to bring decency standards into their lives?  Is it OK to insist on decency standards when the child is young, but to "let go" when he is an "adult?" 

Do you think the government should be investigating and prosecuting the porn industry, or levy fines on indecency on the radio or TV?   If the government imposes decency standards, is the government treating adults like children?  Is the ONLY interest the government should have to impose decency standards which affect children?

What is the obligation of what part of society to create or impose "decency standards?"  What are decency standards?   You know that those who SHOULD be reading this page are not, but what can YOU do about this morality issue in society?  Vote, first, then, click to find out how you can help!

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WSJ, April 20, 2004:  The Big Chill?

Do we really want to enter an era in which an inadvertent curse word aired during live coverage of a breaking news story would result in fines and possible license revocations? It would be a loss to everyone if the high standards of news organizations like NBC News were sacrificed in the effort to minimize the real risks that apparently are now part of any live broadcast.

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Free speech is free speech even for guys like Howard Stern

Given the radio landscape — with its repetitive play, monopoly ownership and dearth of formats — it’s hard to imagine even the government ruining it.

And faced with a duel between those staying up late worrying about indecency and Howard Stern — cash cow and mouth extraordinaire — my money’s on Stern.

Obscenity: For the first time in 10 years, the U.S. government is spending millions to file charges across the country.

Either way, Nguyen, father of a 2-year-old girl, and his co-workers spend their days scouring the Internet for the most obscene material, following leads sent in by citizens and tracking pornographers operating under different names. The job wears on them all, day after day, so much so that the obscenity division has recently set up in-house counseling for them to talk about what they're seeing and how it is affecting them.

The Washington Times, April 20, 2004:  Media firms battle FCC

Three of the nation's biggest media companies challenged the government's crackdown on broadcasting indecent material yesterday, joining activists and performers in protesting a Federal Communications Commission decision that opponents said is stifling free speech on the airwaves.

WSJ, April 23, 2004:  The End Of Shock Jock Howard Stern

If Howard Stern is to be believed, he's now suffering Jesus-like persecution at the hands of the Federal Communications Commission because of his political views. Meanwhile his boss, Viacom president Mel Karmazin, assures a U.S. Senator that while a sexual crack on Mr. Stern's show may have been racist, it wasn't indecent. Which is almost as silly as the FCC's initial Solomonic ruling that the F-word is no problem so long as it's an adjective.

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Source

The Wall Street Journal  

April 19, 2004

COMMENTARY
 

The Big Chill?

By BOB WRIGHT
April 19, 2004; Page A20

Following Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," the House and Senate have been working feverishly on legislation designed to, as one congressman put it, "reclaim America's airwaves for decency."

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Personally, I'm not convinced that further broadcast content regulation is necessary. One thing is clear, however: If our current national dialogue about decency is to make any sense at all, broadcast networks (which air thousands of hours of unobjectionable programming for every second of content that might inadvertently cross the line) must not be confused with a few "shock jocks" of radio who have drawn so much government attention. The average home today receives more than 100 television channels. Perhaps 14 of these might be over-the-air broadcast stations, including a couple of Spanish-language broadcasters. These licensees take seriously their obligation to refrain from airing obscene, indecent, or profane programming.

It is not just broadcast licensees who should be concerned. Make no mistake, the American public will bear the brunt of this legislation, which is just vague and punitive enough to cause talented writers, producers and actors to flee broadcast television. The legislation before Congress will require broadcasters and individual performers alike to weigh every move they make in the fear of incurring a fine or triggering an indecency hearing. At a time when broadcast and cable channels are just a click away on the remote control, it makes no sense to exacerbate the regulatory burden imposed on broadcasters.

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* * *

Another serious problem is that the standards are so murky that it's impossible to self-regulate with any confidence. We recently cut from "ER" a fleeting image of a partially dressed 80-year-old woman on a gurney. We did so not because we thought it was in any way parallel to the Jackson-Timberlake fiasco. It was an example of what can happen when the government is empowered to enforce vague and unclear standards. Such discretionary power can force broadcasters to play it safe at the high cost of sacrificing creative integrity. This is precisely the kind of pernicious "chilling effect" that the courts have found to be constitutionally suspect.

Viewers of NBC and other broadcast television networks deserve to see the full creative vision of talented producers like Dick Wolf and John Wells, who are responsible for some of television's best shows -- as reined in when necessary not by politicians applying vague rules, but by the broadcasters (and their viewers and advertisers, who vote with their eyes and dollars). By the same token, viewers deserve and expect to watch news events unfold in real time -- not as delayed and edited by anxious television standards professionals forced to anticipate the judgments of government censors.

Do we really want to enter an era in which an inadvertent curse word aired during live coverage of a breaking news story would result in fines and possible license revocations? It would be a loss to everyone if the high standards of news organizations like NBC News were sacrificed in the effort to minimize the real risks that apparently are now part of any live broadcast.

Some material has no place on broadcast radio or television. But the federal government needs to act with caution and restraint when it comes to exercising its powers in this area. The vast majority of broadcast licensees do an excellent job of knowing where and when to draw the line. Errors of judgment are rare. Ultimately, we have much less to fear from obscene, indecent, or profane content than we do from an overzealous government willing to limit First Amendment protections and censor creative expression. That would be indecent.

Mr. Wright is vice chairman of General Electric, and chairman and CEO of NBC.

URL for this article:
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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Free speech is free speech even for guys like Howard Stern

Laura Berman

 

Let me reveal my personal bias: I hate Howard Stern’s on-air persona, his leering, infantile, sexually perverse shtick, his 50-year-old-as-pimply-teen-ager act.

Lock me in a room with a two-channel radio and I’ll pick Rush Limbaugh over Howard in a snap.

Still, Stern — whose show is broadcast locally on the E! cable network and WKRK-97.1 FM — is singing a plaintive new tune.

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Earlier this month, Stern was dropped by Clear Channel Communications in six small and midsize markets after the company was fined $495,000 by the FCC for various on-air utterances that I wouldn’t be able to repeat or paraphrase with any precision in any mainstream newspaper.

As a result, Stern is acting as if he’s Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for life, or Alexander Solzhenitsyn, shivering in the Gulag.

He’s so upset by this unfair persecution that he’s stealing valuable time from undressing barely-of-age women on the air, or verifying the authenticity of their breasts, to dramatize his plight as a political victim.

Because he’s a very smart and skilled broadcaster, Stern’s pleas have touched many of his 20 million or so listeners.

Otherwise intelligent people are wandering around muttering about the fate of poor Howard, and the evil FCC commissioners who, by slapping substantial fines on broadcasters, are endangering not only his livelihood but the future of free speech in America.

Because I too am concerned about free speech, I switched on E! just in time to catch the irrepressible one offering $1,000 to an aspiring model/actress/dancer — the prize hers if she would don a bikini. “I haven’t shaved my legs in two days,” she said, politely declining.

Howard Stern’s a guy who knows what’s — in one of his favorite phrases — “classy.”

On the surface, Stern’s show makes an ideal target for the FCC’s new “zero tolerance” attack on indecency on the air — a big fish to land in the post-Janet Jackson Super Bowl era of decency.

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It would be terrific if people listened to radio stations in direct proportion to community standards of decency, or if advertisers didn’t long to reach truck-buying, beer-gulping young males.

Given the radio landscape — with its repetitive play, monopoly ownership and dearth of formats — it’s hard to imagine even the government ruining it.

And faced with a duel between those staying up late worrying about indecency and Howard Stern — cash cow and mouth extraordinaire — my money’s on Stern.

He’ll survive long after the newly emboldened FCC commissioners promise to clean up the airwaves, even if he has to take his obnoxious act to satellite. Or Venus.

But before that happens, he’s already proving what Czech writer Milan Kundera once said about repressive regimes: They’re bad for people but good for literature.

And persecution is clearly good for Howard Stern.

Stern, a former Bush booster, is now using the power of his radio pulpit for effective political commentary. The actions of the government, and his former employer, are diverting him from his usual anatomical obsessions.

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He’s gone from crude commentator on women’s bodies to savvy civil libertarian.

Ultimately, Stern may prove to be the FCC’s Moby Dick — the great whale who turns their boat upside down.

You can reach Laura Berman at (248) 647-7221 or lberman@detnews.com.


Source

   

 
 

Administration wages war on pornography

Obscenity: For the first time in 10 years, the U.S. government is spending millions to file charges across the country.



 

By Laura Sullivan
Sun National Staff

April 6, 2004

 

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WASHINGTON - Lam Nguyen's job is to sit for hours in a chilly, quiet room devoid of any color but gray and look at pornography. This job, which Nguyen does earnestly from 9 to 5, surrounded by a half-dozen other "computer forensic specialists" like him, has become the focal point of the Justice Department's operation to rid the world of porn.

In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO's long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Department officials say they will send "ripples" through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.

The Justice Department recently hired Bruce Taylor, who was instrumental in a handful of convictions obtained over the past year and unsuccessfully represented the state in a 1981 case, Larry Flynt vs. Ohio.

Flynt, who recently opened a Hustler nightclub in Baltimore, says everyone in the business is wary, making sure their taxes are paid and the "talent" is over 18. He says he's ready for a rematch, especially with Taylor.

"Everyone's concerned," Flynt said in an interview. "We deal in plain old vanilla sex. Nothing really outrageous. But who knows, they may want a big target like myself."

A recent episode of Showtime's Family Business, a reality show about Adam Glasser, an adult film director and entrepreneur in California, had him worrying about shipping his material to states more apt to prosecute. It also featured him organizing a pornographic Internet telethon to raise money for targets of prosecution.

 

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Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the division in charge of obscenity prosecutions at the Justice Department, says officials are trying to send a message and halt an industry they see as growing increasingly "lawless."

"We want to do everything we can to deter this conduct" by producers and consumers, Oosterbaan said. "Nothing is off the table as far as content."

Money and friends

It is unclear, though, just how the American public and major corporations that make money from pornography will accept the perspective of the Justice Department and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Any move against mainstream pornography could affect large telephone companies offering broadband Internet service or the dozens of national credit card companies providing payment services to pornographic Web sites.

Cable television, meanwhile, which has found late-night lineups with "adult programming" highly profitable, is unlikely to budge, and such companies have powerful friends.

Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, which offers "hard-core" porn on the Hot Network channel (at $11.99 per film in Baltimore), was co-chair of Philadelphia 2000, the host committee that brought the Republican National Convention to Philadelphia. In February, the Bush campaign honored Comcast President Stephen Burke with "Ranger" status, for agreeing to raise at least $200,000 for the president's re-election effort. Comcast's executive vice president, David Cohen, has close ties to Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

 

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Tim Fitzpatrick, the spokesman for Comcast at its corporate headquarters in Philadelphia, declined to comment on the cable network's adult programming. But officials at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which Roberts used to chair, said adult programming is legal, relies on subscription services for access and has been upheld by the courts for years.

"Good luck turning back that clock," said Paul Rodriguez, a spokesman for the association.

Ashcroft vs. consent

In a speech in 2002, Ashcroft made it clear that the Justice Department intends to try. He said pornography "invades our homes persistently though the mail, phone, VCR, cable TV and the Internet," and has "strewn its victims from coast to coast."

Given the millions of dollars Americans are spending each month on adult cable television, Internet sites and magazines and videos, many may see themselves not as victims but as consumers, with an expectation of rights, choices and privacy.

Ashcroft, a religious man who does not drink alcohol or caffeine, smoke, gamble or dance, and has fought unrelenting criticism that he has trod roughshod on civil liberties in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, is taking on the porn industry at a time when many experts say Americans are wary about government intrusion into their lives.

The Bush administration is eager to shore up its conservative base with this issue. Ashcroft held private meetings with conservative groups a year and a half ago to assure them that anti-porn efforts are a priority.

 

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But administration critics and First Amendment rights attorneys warn that the initiative could smack of Big Brother, and that targeting such a broad range of readily available materials could backfire.

"They are miscalculating the pulse of the community," said attorney Paul Cambria, who has gone head to head with Taylor in cases dating to the 1970s.

"I think a lot of adults would say this is not what they had in mind, spending millions of dollars and the time of the courts and FBI agents and postal inspectors and prosecutors investigating what consenting adults are doing and watching."

The law itself rests on the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California, which held that something is "obscene" only if an average person applying contemporary community standards finds it patently offensive. But until now, it hasn't been prosecuted at the federal level for more than 10 years.

Since the last time he faced Taylor, Flynt's empire has grown into a multimillion-dollar corporation with a large, almost conservative-looking headquarters in California, where he and executives in dark suits oversee the company's dozens of men's clubs, sex stores and more than 30 magazines.

"He's basically crusaded against everything I've fought for for the past 30 years," Flynt said. "This is for consenting adults. They have the right to view what they want to in the privacy of their own home. And even if they don't enjoy these materials, they still don't want to be looking over their neighbors' shoulders."

Cases and results

Taylor, who has been involved in the prosecution of more than 700 pornography cases since the 1970s, including at the Justice Department in the late 1980s and early '90s, declined to be interviewed. But he did talk to reporters for the PBS program Frontline in 2001, when he was president of the National Law Center for Children and Families, an anti-porn group.

"Just about everything on the Internet and almost everything in the video stores and everything in the adult bookstores is still prosecutable illegal obscenity," he said.

"Some of the cable versions of porno movies are prosecutable. Once it becomes obvious that this really is a federal felony instead of just a form of entertainment or investment, then legitimate companies, to stay legitimate, are going to have to distance themselves from it."

The Justice Department pursued obscenity cases vigorously in the 1970s and '80s, prosecuting not necessarily the worst offenders in terms of extreme material, but those it viewed as most responsible for pornography's proliferation.

 

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Oosterbaan said the department is employing much the same strategy this time, targeting not only some of the most egregious hard-core porn but also more conventional material, in an effort "to be as effective as possible."

"I can't possibly put it all away," he said. "Results are what we want."

The strategy in the 1980s resulted in a lot of extreme pornography - dealing in urination, violence or bestiality - going underground. Today, with the Internet, international producers and a substantial market, industry officials say there is no underground.

Obscenity cases came to a standstill under Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton's attorney general, who focused on child pornography, which is considered child abuse and comes under different criminal statutes. The ensuing years saw an explosion of porn, so much so that critics say that Americans' tolerance for sexually explicit material rivals that of Europeans.

That tolerance could prove to be the obscenity division's biggest obstacle. Americans are used to seeing sex, experts say, in the movies, in their e-mail inboxes and on popular cable shows such as HBO's Sex and the City. There is no real gauge of just how obscene a jury will find pornographic material.

The majority of defendants indicted in federal courts over the past year have taken plea agreements when faced with the weight and resources of the Justice Department. More than 50 other federal investigations are under way.

In 2001, though, one interesting case emerged from St. Charles County, Mo., the heart of Ashcroft's conservative Missouri base. First Amendment lawyer Cambria defended a video store there against state charges that it was renting two obscene videotapes that depicted group sex, anal sex and sex with objects.

 

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Cambria won, convincing a jury of 12 women, all between the ages of 40 and 60, that the tapes had educational value and helped reduce inhibitions. They reached the verdict in less than three hours.

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The department's most closely watched case involves "extreme" porn producer Rob Zicari and his North Hollywood company Extreme Associates. The prolific Zicari is charged with selling five allegedly obscene videotapes, which he now markets as the "Federal Five," that depict simulated rapes and murder.

Almost reveling in the charges, Zicari's Web site says, "The most controversial company in porn today! Guess what? Controversy ... sells!"

The case hangs on a strategic move by the Justice Department that could make or break hundreds of future cases. Instead of bringing charges in Hollywood, where Zicari easily defeated a local obscenity ordinance recently in a jury trial, department officials ordered his tapes from Pittsburgh, Pa., and charged him there, hoping for a jury pool less porn-friendly.

Industry lawyers and top executives contend that the courts should rule that because the tapes were ordered on the Internet, the "community standard" demanded by the law should be the standard of the whole community of the World Wide Web.

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The Internet is filled with ample evidence of even more hard-core or offensive material from abroad, they say, and someone in Pittsburgh should not be able to determine what someone in Hollywood can order.

Either way, Nguyen, father of a 2-year-old girl, and his co-workers spend their days scouring the Internet for the most obscene material, following leads sent in by citizens and tracking pornographers operating under different names. The job wears on them all, day after day, so much so that the obscenity division has recently set up in-house counseling for them to talk about what they're seeing and how it is affecting them.

"This stuff isn't the easiest to deal with," Nguyen said recently while at his computer. "But I think we're going after the bad guys and we're making a difference, and that's what makes it worthwhile."

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Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun


Source

The Washington Times
www.washingtontimes.com

The Washington Times, April 20, 2004:  Media firms battle FCC

By Chris Baker
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published April 20, 2004
 

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Three of the nation's biggest media companies challenged the government's crackdown on broadcasting indecent material yesterday, joining activists and performers in protesting a Federal Communications Commission decision that opponents said is stifling free speech on the airwaves.

Viacom Inc., the parent company of CBS and the Infinity Broadcasting Corp. radio chain, and Fox Entertainment Group Inc., the parent of the Fox network, signed a petition asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reverse its March 18 ruling against musician Bono's use of an expletive during last year's broadcast of the Golden Globes ceremony.

    Until now, the broadcasters largely have appeared humbled by the government's crackdown on indecency, which intensified after Janet Jackson's breast was briefly exposed during CBS' Feb. 1 broadcast of the Super Bowl halftime show.

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    "This is the first comprehensive effort to explain to the FCC how broad and ill-conceived their direction is," said Robert Corn-Revere, the lawyer for the group that filed the petition, which also includes activist groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and performers such as comedian Margaret Cho.

    National Broadcasting Co. Inc., which aired the annual Golden Globes ceremony on its NBC network, filed a separate petition. The Wall Street Journal published a stinging opinion piece yesterday by Robert C. Wright, NBC's chairman and chief executive.

    "Ultimately, we have much less to fear from obscene, indecent or profane content than we do from an overzealous government willing to limit First Amendment protections and censor creative free expression. That would be indecent," Mr. Wright wrote.

    ABC did not join the petition because it hasn't been cited by the FCC for indecent programming, officials said.

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    The decision by the big media companies to challenge the FCC's Bono decision signals a strategic shift, several industry analysts said. Executives originally dismissed the FCC's post-Super Bowl crackdown as election-year politics, but increasingly are worried about the agency's long-term direction, the analysts said.

    "The broadcasters are sending a cautionary message that restricting the First Amendment will not be productive for them," said Blair Levin, a media analyst for investment banker Legg Mason Inc. and a former FCC staffer.

    An FCC spokeswoman declined comment. Once the agency reviews a petition challenging one of its decisions, it must decide whether to reverse or reaffirm it.

    Mr. Corn-Revere said the commissioners' actions have prompted broadcasters to abandon live programming and have forced them to drop or edit songs such as the Who's "Who Are You" and Sheryl Crow's "A Change Would Do You Good."

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    Even public broadcasting has been affected, he said, noting that PBS felt it had to edit some of the work by poet Piri Thomas out of a documentary on his life.

    "The FCC is now setting itself up as a national censorship board, seeking to impose its version of morality on the American public," said Chris Hansen, an ACLU staff attorney.

    Bono, lead singer for the rock group U2, used an expletive when he said, "This is really, really ... brilliant" while accepting an award during NBC's January 2003 broadcast of the Golden Globes ceremony, sparking hundreds of complaints to the FCC.

    The agency's enforcement bureau later determined that the word was not profane because it did not refer to a sexual act in the context in which Bono used it.

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    Under FCC rules, broadcasters cannot air material containing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children might tune in.

    The FCC commissioners overruled the bureau's Bono decision on March 18, but they did not impose a fine because they never had stated that any use of the expletive violated the agency's rules.

    In addition to overruling the bureau's Bono decision, the FCC also has issued a slew of heavy fines against broadcasters, primarily aimed at radio stations that air adult-oriented programs such as "The Howard Stern Show."

    The Senate is expected to pass a bill to toughen penalties against broadcasting indecent material, perhaps as early as next month. The House passed a similar bill earlier this year that has been endorsed by President Bush.

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Copyright © 2004 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.


 

Source

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The Wall Street Journal  

April 23, 2004

REVIEW & OUTLOOK
 

Howard's End
April 23, 2004; Page A14

If Howard Stern is to be believed, he's now suffering Jesus-like persecution at the hands of the Federal Communications Commission because of his political views. Meanwhile his boss, Viacom president Mel Karmazin, assures a U.S. Senator that while a sexual crack on Mr. Stern's show may have been racist, it wasn't indecent. Which is almost as silly as the FCC's initial Solomonic ruling that the F-word is no problem so long as it's an adjective.

Welcome to the decency wars. We'll be the first to concede that the obsession over particular words or Janet Jackson's now infamous nipple leaves no one looking good. The shock jocks have a point, moreover, when they complain that they're not doing anything now they haven't got away with for years. We'll even concede that some of the Congressional chest-thumping now on display is not unrelated to election-year opportunism.

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But if American pols are exploiting Howard Stern and Janet Jackson for their own purposes, industry execs might be wise to ask why. The answer is that this is a no-brainer. The reason we will soon see a Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act land on President Bush's desk is that members of Congress understand the American public has had it with the increasing coarsening of our television and radio. Even the FCC is not so much leading this charge as it is provoked into action by the 200,000 complaints it received in the wake of the Super Bowl halftime fiasco.

Yes, we know: If you don't like what you hear or see, turn it off. That may make for an easy sound bite. But for parents it's no answer at all. Unless you're thinking of sending your child to a convent school at the edge of a Spanish desert, there's no way to turn off the culture. And implicit in this flip advice is the arrogant assumption that people getting rich off this garbage have no responsibility for what they put out.

Let's dwell on that for a moment. Could the parishioners of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, whose church was used as a staging ground for a public sex stunt, really have solved the problem simply by "turning off" the radio? Of the many disturbing aspects of that incident, not least was the spectacle of the corporate sponsor -- Jim Koch, brewer of Sam Adams beer -- in the radio studio yucking it up with the boys over the live sex act being broadcast. The idea that this was a momentary lapse in judgment is belied by the contest name: "Sex for Sam."

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The point is that this kind of thing is no longer the exclusive province of seedy men in trench coats operating in the outskirts of town. Today it is big business, broadcast by mainstream media conglomerates with enthusiastic backing from corporate suites. As for Michael Powell's recent fines, it's worth pointing out that the FCC chairman didn't invent these standards. All he's doing is belatedly invoking what had always been the FCC's authority to enforce them.

If Mr. Karmazin and Mr. Stern and others in the broadcast industry want to tell Congress that the FCC has no business sanctioning them or that indecency is all relative and there ought to be no real business consequences for what they are doing, that's entirely their right. We only hope they're not surprised by the response.

URL for this article:
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