Sean Turner
June 15, 2004
FCC -- Federal Censorship Commission
By Sean Turner

The recent record-setting $2 million settlement between Clear Channel Communications Inc. and the FCC should come as no surprise to those cognizant of the increasing regulatory grip of the federal government over the affairs of the businesses and citizens within its purview. What is surprising well, actually disturbing is the multitude of people who would agree with such a settlement and the charges that led to it. At issue were on-air remarks made earlier this year by Howard Stern deemed "indecent" by both Clear Channel Communications and the federal government. What is truly "indecent" or "improper" is the mere existence of a regulatory entity the FCC that seeks and succeeds in dictating the content of broadcast communications. A brief look into the history of the FCC reveals the transformation from merely a communications gatekeeper bad to today's content czar worse.

The year 1927 was filled with a number of events that would leave an indelible mark on the lives of millions in America, and around the world. It was a year that witnessed the birth of Sidney Poitier and Stan Getz, the destruction of the "Great Mississippi Flood," the opening of the Holland Tunnel, and the first transatlantic telephone call (from New York to London). It was also the year, in which the Radio Act of 1927 became law which laid the groundwork for today's Federal Communications Commission. Ratified by President Calvin Coolidge a Republican whose inauguration was the first presidential inauguration broadcast on radio the Radio Act of 1927 led to the formation of the Federal Radio Commission, which was created to license broadcasters and ostensibly reduce radio interference. This legislation superseded the Radio Act of 1912 giving regulatory authority over radio communication to the Department of Commerce and the Interstate Commerce Commission and ushered in the first phase of censorship by prohibiting the utterance of any "obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication."

In 1934, FDR and Congress continued its assault on free speech and growth of regulatory constraints through the Communications Act of 1934 which replaced the Federal Radio Commission with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Though the act remains the foundation of the regulatory authority of the FCC, it has undergone a number of amendments most notable among these is that led to the creation of "public" television, and the Cable Act of 1984.

As new communications technologies emerged, so too did efforts by Congress to restrict content and increase the FCC hegemony over communication in America. One such example is the Communications Decency Act, which criminalized the use of computers to display "indecent" material, unless the content provider "effective" method is used to prohibit access to that material to anyone under the age of 18. Although this and portions of the act were invalidated by the Supreme Court in 1997 as a violation of the First Amendment, efforts have continued by Congress and state legislatures over the years to restrict Internet content among other media.

The FCC regulates all non-Federal Government use of the radio spectrum which includes radio and television broadcasting, all interstate telecommunications, and all international communications whose origin or destination is the United States. Its primary method of enforcement was once merely the revocation of licenses, as fines were apparently an ineffective method of censorship. However, and perhaps sensing the impending litigation, the FCC, with the continual assistance from Congress, is placing less emphasis on license revocation, and is seeking to increase maximum fines into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per utterance anything deemed "indecent." And since the Supreme Court has already ruled that the FCC has the authority to place some restrictions on content, don't expect any successful attempts to cut off any of the FCC's regulatory appendages any time soon.

So there you have it... another chapter, decades in the making, of the incessant reduction of freedom. As usual, free speech has taken a back seat to the often well-intentioned, but usually misguided attempts to impose a perception of morality on the public. Given the widespread support that these attempts have enjoyed, it is apparent that good parenting and monitoring one's own children are tasks best left to government. I guess it is too burdensome for a parent nowadays to monitor what their child listens to or watches. Moreover, it seems there are quite a few who are unable to locate the television, radio, or computer's off button. When many such individuals or groups fail to accomplish their agenda on their own they simply run to mommy and daddy government to make it all better...

© Sean Turner

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Sean Turner

Sean Turner is the head of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Georgia, and a member of the Project 21 Advisory Council of the National Center for Public Policy Research... (more)

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