The Federal Communications Commission fined radio giant Clear Channel Communications Inc. $755,000 yesterday for 26 apparent violations of the agency's indecency standards by a Florida-based DJ who calls himself "Bubba the Love Sponge."
During seven morning-show segments that aired in July, November and December 2001, the syndicated DJ -- real name Todd Clem -- discussed a number of sexual acts, between both human and cartoon characters, and described female and male genitals on four Clear Channel stations, according to the FCC complaint.
Clem's morning show originates from Tampa's WXTB-FM (which features "thong of the day" photographs on its Web site) and has drawn criticism for its broadcasts before. In 2001, the shock jock was acquitted of a charge of animal cruelty for castrating and butchering a wild boar on air. Clear Channel briefly suspended him.
The FCC recommends fining Clear Channel, which owns more than 1,250 stations, the maximum allowable, $27,500, for each of the 26 alleged violations, plus an additional $40,000 for apparently failing to maintain required documents at the stations. In 1995, Infinity Radio accrued fines of $1.5 million for indecency violations committed by shock jock Howard Stern, the largest penalties ever.
The FCC fines come a day before a House subcommittee is set to convene a hearing on broadcast indecency. FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell recently vowed to push the five-member commission to overturn a 2003 ruling by his agency that an expletive uttered by singer Bono during a live NBC telecast in January was not indecent, sparking a storm of criticism.
NBC said earlier this month that in response, the network had installed a seven-second "delay" button that allows it to block offensive words from live broadcasts before they air.
However, during Sunday night's live NBC broadcast of the Golden Globes Awards show -- nearly one year to the day of Bono's expletive on last year's Golden Globes -- actress Diane Keaton used the vulgarity for excrement. A moment of dead air followed, suggesting that NBC tried to mask the word but missed.
Also yesterday, the FCC fined San Francisco television station KRON for an October 2002 morning news segment featuring performers from a stage show called "Puppetry of the Penis." One of the show's actors, wearing only a cape, briefly exposed himself on-air. For the violation, the FCC imposed a $27,500 fine.
"By today's actions, we provide yet another example of this commission's commitment to enforce its rules and regulations -- especially as it relates to indecent programming engulfing our broadcast airwaves," Powell wrote in a statement.
But two other commissioners said Clear Channel was not hit hard enough.
Republican commissioner Kevin J. Martin, who has made broadcast indecency a priority of his agenda, said Clem's shows should have been fined for each indecent word or phrase, which would have totaled more than $1 million. Powell said the FCC will soon begin considering fining each utterance.
Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps dissented from issuing the fine, saying the four Clear Channel stations ought to be hauled before a license-revocation hearing.
"This case may well lead broadcasters to believe that this commission will never use the enforcement authority it currently has available to it," Copps wrote. "The message to licensees is clear. Even egregious repeated violations will not result in revocation of a license. Rather, they will result only in a financial penalty that is merely a cost of doing business."
In response, Clear Channel, which also owns concert venues, television stations and billboards and is based in San Antonio, released a statement calling on Congress to convene an industry-wide task force to evaluate indecency standards.
"We work hard every day to entertain, not offend our listeners," Clear Channel Radio chief executive John Hogan said in a statement. "None of us defend or encourage indecent content -- it's simply not part of our corporate culture."
Clear Channel Communications President Mark Mays said the task force should define indecency while balancing First Amendment rights with local community standards and should make sure that all media are scrutinized equally.
On July 19, 2001, Clem's show featured skits in which Scooby-Doo advises Shaggy to perform a sexual act to earn money to buy crack, it is asserted that Fat Albert was killed in a drive-by shooting, George Jetson's adventures with a malfunctioning sexual device are detailed and Alvin the Chipmunk's inability to mate is lamented.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, yesterday sent letters to the heads of the four major television networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- asking them what actions they are taking to ensure that indecent content does not air.
In his letter to Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman, Dingell referred to the network's December broadcast of the 2003 Billboard Music Awards during which Nicole Richie, star of the Fox series "The Simple Life," uttered two profanities that were heard by most of the country.
"I hope you agree that it is wholly unacceptable for the Fox network to broadcast objectionable language as it did last December, and hope that you will ensure that what happened during the Billboard Music Awards will never happen again on your network," Dingell wrote.