Variety editorial

Rare is the day that Viacom, News Corp., SAG, the Writers and Directors Guilds, the ACLU and the Recording Industry Assn. of America speak in a single voice.

But these groups have joined the First Amendment battle brewing in Washington over the FCC’s indecency crackdown. They’re threatening to take the FCC to court if it doesn’t reconsider its March 18 ruling that NBC violated decency standards in its 2003 Golden Globes telecast.

The FCC’s new anti-smut crusade has cast a long shadow across radio and TV networks. Thus far in 2004, the FCC has proposed close to $1.6 million in fines for broadcast indecency — that’s more than in the previous 10 years combined, according to the Center For Public Integrity, a Washington watchdog group.

Congress is also considering passage of a bill that could subject performers to $500,000 fines.

When the first FCC fines were meted out — to radio stations airing shock jocks Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge — the media companies were silent. They adopted broadcast delays and various zero-tolerance profanity policies. These companies have their own legislative agendas, and they appeared prepared to weather the storm.

But the FCC’s decision on the Golden Globes telecast was clearly a tipping point that’s shifted the debate from short-term policies to the long-term objectives of broadcast indecency policy.

The coarsening of American culture is a real issue for the entertainment business. But a sudden flurry of threats of huge fines and license revocations from the FCC will do nothing to stop it. In fact, it could make things worse, driving artists and serious debate from the airwaves.

What we’re confronting has become quite obvious: The election-year efforts of conservative culture crusaders to control program content. This is an offensive that must be thwarted.

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