WASHINGTON — Clear Channel Communications is taking it on the chin these days.
The Federal Communications Commission Tuesday slapped the radio behemoth with a $755,000 fine for a sexually explicit radio show, the highest monetary penalty the agency has ever leveled against a broadcaster for a single indecency violation.
Ruling came one day before FCC officials will travel to San Antonio, the home of Clear Channel corporate headquarters, to hold a forum on concentration in the news and entertainment biz and its impact on the media’s ability to cover local issues and reflect local flavor.
A coalition of Hollywood labor groups will descend on San Antonio to protest the hearing and take on Clear Channel directly. Reps from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the American Federation of Musicians, Communications Workers of America, the Newspaper Guild and watchdog group Common Cause will present a report titled “A Clear Picture of Clear Channel,” which examines the radio giant’s impact on the arts and entertainment industries and workers in the biz. Other activist groups plan to protest outside the hearing and target Clear Channel by name.
In the past few years Clear Channel has become a common punching bag for activists who oppose media consolidation. After the 1996 Telecom law, which relaxed several restrictions on concentration, Clear Channel’s radio holdings mushroomed from some 400 stations to more than 1,200.
Aside from an attempt to force Clear Channel to clean up its act, the hefty FCC fine also appears to be proof of the agency’s new get-tough stance on indecency. Agency topper Michael Powell recently called on Congress to increase fines for indecency tenfold and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) responded by introducing a bill to do just that and announcing a House Energy and Commerce hearing skedded for today on broadcast indecency titled, “Can You Say That on TV?”
The FCC fined Clear Channel for airing various episodes of “Bubba the Love Sponge,” a total of 26 times on four Florida stations in 2001. Agency proposed the maximum fine of $27,500 per episode, or a total of $715,000 plus a $40,000 additional fine for poor record-keeping. Clear Channel has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal.
After the FCC announcement, Clear Channel execs attempted to burnish the company’s image.
“We work hard every day to entertain, not offend our listeners,” said John Hogan, CEO of Clear Channel Radio. “None of us defend or encourage indecent content — it’s simply not part of our corporate culture,” he said.
Clear Channel also highlighted the vague nature of the federal indecency standards and called for an industry task force to develop precise standards for radio, television, cable and satcasters.
The FCC Tuesday also fined KRON Channel 4 in San Francisco the maximum $27,500 for broadcasting indecent material on its morning news program.
A spokeswoman for Young Broadcasting declined to comment.
Reporters for the San Francisco station interviewed performers with the “Puppetry of the Penis,” theatrical troupe who wore capes but nothing else. During the show, one performer briefly exposed himself. In its ruling, the FCC acknowledged that the display was only “fleeting,” but maintained that the station could have expected and prevented it.