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Free yourself from the FCC

Note:  Buzzmachine, hosted by Jeff Jarvis, is a popular weblog that focuses on media. This editorial was written to be published in the Rome (NY) Sentinel daily newspaper.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has acted just as dangerously towards freedom as the Iranian mullahs who, according to Reporters Without Borders, have arrested the fifth Iranian Internet writer in two months. Following their belief of decency, mullahs can demand women cover-up with chadors or burqas the same way the FCC can demand broadcast media cover up. The FCC censors according to its beliefs, but they are poor surrogates for your own judgment. There are other tools, all of which are more certain and Constitutionally safe. And they are in your hands: Turn it off.

  • Refuse to buy the sponsor's product.
  • Complain to friends and neighbors.
  • Complain to the network.
  • Express your distaste.
  • Censure.
Censure is a personal choice. Under censorship, you risk damage when censors turn around on you. Censoring opens the door for the few to impose their views on everyone else. Author of an Internet weblog, http:://, Jeff Jarvis submitted the Freedom of Information challenge to the FCC that uncovered that just three citizens actually composed a letter of complaint to the FCC while millions of people watched the show. Those three original letters were used to fine Fox Network $1.2 million for its "Married by America" program. As Jarvis pointed out, they were fined for "suggesting -- not depicting but merely suggesting -- sex on a show that had already been canceled because the marketplace didn't like it anyway."

The chill is growing after Bono, a rock star, said an expletive at an awards ceremony. Following that, 66 stations refused to air the highly acclaimed film "Saving Private Ryan" because, Jarvis reminded us, "they had been told it contained language that was illegal and could cost them their businesses." Remember Howard Stern -- the shock jock guaranteed to make you reach for your channel changer? His network, Viacom, signed a $3.5 million consent decree with the FCC that includes bizarre and onerous clauses that call for training in the FCC's own version of political correctness. Just this week, CBS and NBC refused to air a commercial from the United Church of Christ because it's "too controversial" although it merely said "Jesus did not turn people away. Neither do we."

FCC wields such power because of its strategy for blackmail. Jarvis explains that the last time a broadcaster stood up to the Federal Communication Commission in court was 1994. Broadcasters don't want to risk the chance the FCC might kill their business on a whim. Because the FCC decides whether or not a license will be renewed, the First Amendment never gets its day in court. Jarvis observes that "fined broadcasters -- and we, the people -- never get the chance to test the constitutionality of what the FCC is doing to free speech in this nation."

Only 22 members of the House of Representatives had the guts to vote for free speech and against the indecent indecency bill. The rest didn't want to go home and be accused of voting for smut. We stand here to tell them that we stand by their right to censure smut, but we need them to vote for free speech, the First Amendment, the Constitution and everything America holds precious.

Battles are looming. NBC wants to argue the Bono case. Fox will decide this week whether to fight its fine. Viacom did not settle the Janet Jackson case where the FCC proposes a $500,000 fine for 19/32 of a second's worth of breast exposure, revealing that the feds are apparently unable to prove network foreknowledge of the infamous "wardrobe failure". Ominous clouds are overhead. China is blocking free internet access. Iran is threatening bloggers and is even a particpant on the United Nations group looking at Internet governance. Political correctness is a misbegotten goal at home. The single glimmer of hope is that some people are talking about what to do after the FCC crumbles.

So keep our freedom and, instead of censoring, censure what you object to and explain why. It's the American way.


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This page was last updated: Friday, December 3, 2004 at 8:43:22 AM
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