....LMB: "Nipple Ripples"....

March 04, 2004

The impact of Janet Jackson's breast-baring continues to reverberate.

The popular (yet puzzling) shock and outrage has been seen by some political folk as a mandate for a crackdown on naughty media. The FCC has rolled out new rules and punishments for TV and radio stations which violate obscenity and indecency laws (but has no problem with the way that monopolistic media destroys democracy. Gotta have your priorities, I guess).

While we're at it, we may as well lay out those rules:

Obscenity: must meet three criteria- "(1) an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Basically, sexual material aimed at getting you horny, and only at getting you horny. Despite what most people believe about the First Amendment, obscene speech is against the law. If you want your sexy content to be legal, make sure it has some kind of "literary, artistic, political or scientific value." Say that one of the actresses in your porn film is supposed to be Charlotte Bronte and you'll be good to go.

Indecency: "Depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities." That means pee-pees, poo-poo, fannies or hoo-hoos. Indecent material is legal in print, but only permissable late at night on radio and TV (10pm-6am).

One of these days I really should write an article about all of the legal restrictions we Americans have on our rights to free speech. There are quite a lot of them, really.

Anyhow. Due to the Janet Jackson thing, our broadcast industries are freaked out that they might face government regulation. In addition to that, Clear Channel recently received some of the stiffest fines in the history of the FCC for indecent comments made by their DJ "Bubba the Love Sponge"-- $755,000. Bubba has since been fired.

Around this time, Clear Channel suddenly decided that it was a staunch supporter of American decency, and dusted off/created a list of decency codes. Popular Viacom DJ Howard Stern allegedly violated some of those codes, so Clear Channel removed Stern from 6 of its stations. That's really not that big a blow, but those stations were in some pretty major markets.

Do these crackdowns signal a hard right turn in our culture? Probably not. I think that this editorial gets it right when it points out that the predicted "permanent shift" in media tone after 9/11 lasted about six months, and naked tits don't score quite that high on the trauma scale, even if those displayed while the whole world is watching.

But as this chain of dominos keeps falling, as players react when acted upon. It is theorized that in anger over his censorship, that Howard Stern might try to get himself fired from Viacom and take up with one of the satelite radio companies, XM or Sirius, taking some fraction of his 18 million listeners with him and turning them into viable media outlets (at present the combined listenership of satelite radio in the US is around 1.5 million).

If things got worse for Stern this would seem possible, but I don't think it's real likely. Although I would love to see the headline "Jackson's Nipple Launches Satelite Radio".

[edit]

I am aware of the allegations that the reason that Bubba and Stern were cut loose was because they had been criticizing President Bush on their shows. That is certainly a possible explanation, but I try to look for the simplest, most reasonable answers. And when it comes to corporations, the simplest answer is usually "money". Frequently when a company fears that government may pass regulatory legislation on their industry, they usually try to pre-emptively self-regulate, assuming that their own half-assed and misleading attempts to solve the problems themselves will save them the money that obeying externally imposed regulation would cost. I think that reason is more plausible than some sort of secret Clear Channel political agenda.

[/edit]

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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

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