FCC Won’t Stifle Serius Satellite Stern

FCC Won’t Stifle Satellite Stern (Broadcasting & Cable)

Howard Stern will be free to be indecent on satellite radio, the Federal Communications Commission effectively said Wednesday — a decision that should also make cable- and satellite-TV providers breathe easier, at least for now. The FCC declined to open a proceeding on whether satellite radio is indecent, saying that it is a subscription service and that the agency has already ruled that such services “do not call into play the issue of indecency.”

The request for the proceeding was aimed directly at Stern. Saul Levine, whose attorneys filed the petition Oct. 29 on behalf of his L.A.-based Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters, says he was at the NAB Radio Show in San Diego in October when Howard Stern announced that he was going to move to Sirius satellite radio and crush traditional broadcasters. Stern cited the indecency crackdown and some broadcasters acquiescence as one reason for the move. Levine took it personally. “When I heard him say he was going to destroy radio, that he was going to kill it, I decided I had to fight back to protect the radio industry. I have three stations and over a million listeners a week.” Levine had wanted the FCC to modify its Satellite Digital Audio Radio Service Rules to include an indecency provision analogous to that for over-the-air broadcasters, or alternately to loosen the restrictions on those traditional broadcasters.

The FCC will do neither. In a one-page letter, Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree declined to open the proceeding, citing an earlier FCC ruling that “[c]onsistent with existing case law, the Commission does not impose regulations regarding indecency on services lacking the indiscriminate access to children that characterizes broadcasting.†“Your petition does not provide a basis to revisit that determination,” said Ferree.

The decision should also make cable and satellite subscription service providers breathe easier. Congress has been pressuring the FCC to regulate indecency on cable, but this would appear a signal that Congress would have to do something about the law before the commission could do anything about cable or satellite indecency.

Hardly surprising. The entire rationale for the FCC, and the Radio Commission before it, was to ensure standards were enforced on the public’s airwaves. HBO, Cinemax, and other such pay-per-view media have, from the beginning, been exempted from such regulation of content. There’s no obvious reason Sirius or XM should be different.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.