The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Fri. Mar 19, 2004

King Of All Fines

King Of All Fines – The Center for Pulbic Integrity has an excellent piece of research with the title, ”Indecency on the Air; Shock-radio jock Howard Stern remains ’King of All Fines’” It calmly inserts a series of facts and some perpective into the recent hub-bub over Howard. Most of which his proponents are sure to ignore.

But here’s some interesting excerpts (any emphasis added is mine):

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed $3.95 million in fines for broadcast indecency since 1990, with half the total assessed to shock-radio pioneer Howard Stern and his employer Infinity Broadcasting.

The FCC sought $1.96 million in fines from the stations that carried the controversial New York-based disc jockey’s show since 1990, according to the analysis.

Using FCC records and LexisNexis legal research, the Center for Public Integrity identified 72 broadcast indecency proceedings instigated by the FCC since 1990 [...] The analysis shows five radio shows were responsible for $3.44 million in proposed fines since 1990, or 87 percent of the total. The top four shows aired on stations owned by Clear Channel Communications Corp. or Viacom Inc.’s Infinity division, the largest and second largest radio broadcasters in the country, respectively.

According to the FCC, there have been 530,885 complaints so far in 2004 530,828 of them were related to the [Super Bowl] halftime show. That case is under review.

The basic guidelines have changed little since a landmark 1978 Supreme Court case when the FCC’s authority to regulate indecent speech was upheld [...] The agency may fine a broadcaster or, in extremely rare cases, revoke the station’s license [...] The FCC does not police the airwaves independently. It relies on complaints from listeners and viewers. Once a complaint comes in, it is investigated.

Finding out whether the FCC has collected the fines it has issued prior to 2000 is an even more challenging undertaking. This problem was highlighted in an extremely critical report released by the General Accounting Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, in August 1999 entitled ’FCC Does Not Know if All Required Fees are Collected.’

In that report, the GAO notes that at the end of fiscal year 1998 the FCC estimated it had an uncollected balance of about $15 million for all civil monetary penalties, including indecency. FCC officials told the GAO that about 75 percent of the outstanding proposed or assessed penalties would remain uncollected.

The GAO study also found that the FCC’s reports to Treasury contain errors and are ’therefore not reliable. As a result, we cannot reach any conclusions about the effectiveness of FCC’s collection of civil monetary penalties.’

Howard Stern has said on the air that if Congress passes the indecency bill now under debate, that he will quit his show. This no doubt has created some angst at Infinity given the DJ’s ability to bring in huge revenues. Reuters reports that Stern’s show generates as much as $100 million in advertising and fees for Infinity.

Stern’s chief defender over the years has been Viacom president Karmazin. The powerful executive joined Infinity in 1981 and helped build the company into one of the most profitable radio broadcasting companies in the nation [...] Karmazin has cracked down on indecent broadcasts at Infinity, but has never been shy about his reasons for backing Stern. In 1992, he told the Wall Street Journal, ’The format of choice at Infinity is the one that has the largest cash flow.’

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