Media chain Emmis Communications Corp. has agreed to pay the Federal Communications Commission $300,000 to settle all pending radio indecency complaints against the company.
The settlement announced yesterday primarily addresses on-air statements made by a Chicago shock jock who is often fined by the FCC, Erich "Mancow" Muller, in 2000 and 2001 during his syndicated WKQX-FM morning show. One show featured a song referring to female genitals. Others shows included interviews with adult film actresses and graphic descriptions of sexual activities.
"Earlier this year we adopted an aggressive policy to ensure that Emmis provides quality, compelling, on-air content that conforms to decency standards," Emmis President Jeffrey H. Smulyan said in a statement. "We announced a zero tolerance policy and are taking extraordinary steps to educate our on-air employees and program directors."
The settlement comes two months after radio giant Clear Channel Communications Inc. agreed to a $1.7 million deal with the FCC to settle all outstanding indecency violations and complaints.
Since 2001, the FCC enforcement bureau has made three "notice of apparent liability" rulings against Indianapolis-based Emmis, which owns 43 television and radio stations. That means the agency has investigated at least three listener complaints about broadcasts and found them to be indecent under the FCC's rules, which prohibit sexual or obscene material from being aired between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The three notices carry potential fines totaling $42,000.
Yesterday's settlement covers not only those notices but also several listener complaints lodged against Emmis stations that had yet to be ruled on by the enforcement bureau.
The FCC drew some fire for the Clear Channel settlement, which erased listener complaints that the agency had yet to investigate. In the Emmis case, the agency examined all pending listener complaints before agreeing to the settlement.
Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps, the agency's most vocal foe of perceived indecency, voted for the fines but disagreed that the settlement should expunge Emmis's record. He said the company's indecency violations should be considered when its stations come up for license renewal.
Bills in both houses of Congress would give the FCC the power to increase the maximum fine it can levy for indecency, from $27,500 up to $500,000 in one version of the bill.