Howard Stern won’t get his day in court after all.
Infinity Broadcasting, which syndicates Stern’s radio show and owns Stern flagship station WXRK-FM New York, is paying $1.7 million to settle fines levied by the Federal Communications Commission on the disc jockey and stations that carry his show over the last several years.
Although Infinity said its payment to the U.S. Treasury is not an admission of guilt, it is almost the exact amount the commission has fined the company over the years.
The decision of Infinity CEO Mel Karmazin to settle the bill will no doubt be seen as a blow to the First Amendment. While Karmazin has often said he does not consider himself a champion of the First Amendment, he also has stated that he thought the FCC was out of line in its vendetta against Stern.
“The whole purpose of the Communications Act is to service the public. And if the public is choosing Howard Stern… how are we doing the public a disservice?” Karmazin once said.
Stern and Infinity had in the past promised victory in the courts. But the legal costs of doing battle with the FCC are intense. Also, every time Infinity buys a new station, the approval process drags on and becomes more costly because of the Stern fines.
And Infinity was not getting any help from the courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in July upheld the FCC’s ban on airing indecent radio and television programs between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Besides the settlement, Infinity said it will issue a “policy statement to all on-air personnel directing them to be cognizant of the prohibition against the broadcast of indecent speech… and will establish a program designed to educate and update on-air personnel regarding FCC indecency actions.”
FCC chairman Reed Hundt called the settlement a major step in the agency’s mission to “give parents the tools to shield their children from indecent and violent broadcast programming and to encourage broadcasters to enrich our children’s lives by providing educational programming.”
Hundt added that the settlement is the largest amount ever “contributed to the U.S. Treasury by a broadcast station licensee.”
Karmazin and the team of lawyers that have been handling Stern’s FCC problems for almost 10 years were unavailable for comment.
Ironically, Stern still blasts the FCC. As of Sept. 1, he was complaining about the commission spending so much time pursuing him, wasting taxpayers’ money.