January 27, 2004

Just in time for today’s Congressional hearing on media indecency, the Federal Communication Commission sent a signal yesterday that it is fed up with complaints about TV and radio stations that go too far. One Commissioner says it is time to pull the license of repeat offender station owners like Clear Channel.

The Commission leveled a Notice of Apparent Liability to KRON-TV in San Francisco for the statutory maximum of $27,500. It has to do with a morning “news” program that included a segment called “Puppetry of the Penis.” Some performers were on the “news” program and exposed private parts on the air. You can read about the case. The station does not mention the ruling on its website. One of the statements in the FCC’s complaint said:

Young (Broadcasting) maintains that the complained-of material, in context, does not meet the Commission’s indecency definition, and that no further action is warranted. Young acknowledges that the performer’s penis was exposed, but argues that this very brief exposure was accidental and unintentional, and that the complained-of material was part of the bona fide news coverage of the “Puppetry of the Penis.”

The Commission also is asking for $755,000 in fines against media giant Clear Channel Communications for 26 violations of the decency rules involving shock jock “Bubba the Love Sponge,” a morning show that originates in Tampa, Fla. Clear Channel also is getting socked for not keeping FCC required records. This is the third time the Bubba show has been hit with FCC action.

One FCC Commissioner wanted to hit Clear Channel with $1 million in fines. Commissioner Michael Copps wants to pull the station’s license and says the fines are not enough. This is a BIG ratcheting up from the commission’s past enforcements. A revocation hearing is still possible, Copps said.

All of this, of course, comes as a Congressional subcommittee is holding feet to the fire. The Committee wants to pass legislation that will allow the FCC to increase fines 10-fold. There is an opportunity for you to take a look at the growing coarseness of on-air content these days.

Yesterday, Al’s Morning Meeting heard from the Office of Media Relations department of the Federal Communications Commission regarding my “broadcasters indecency story” that was posted. Richard Diamond, Deputy Director, Office of Media Relations, Federal Communications Commission told me:

Just wanted to point out that Chairman Powell has been calling for increased fine authority for quite some time. You can see it in testimony he gave on January 14 (2003) before the Senate Commerce Committee. Each of the FCC commissioners echoed the call during the hearing.

Diamond is correct, Chairman Powell has asked for higher fines while talking about other sectors of the communications industries that the FCC regulates. Diamond tells me that increasing fines for one sector also allows for higher fines for all regulated sectors, such as broadcasting.

Free Speech Versus Indecency, When to Enforce? (Background)

Since his first day on the job, chairman Powell has been reluctant to take on the indecency issue. Still, even while low, fines for indecency have been higher under Powell’s FCC than his predecessors. (See FCC list of fines and cases.)

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports:

“Social judgments should be done by people who have direct accountability to the public,” Powell said in a news conference after President George W. Bush named him chairman in January 2001. “Lobbyists often prefer the FCC ‘because it’s easier to convince three or five’ commissioners than ‘535 elected officials.'”

Powell said in a Feb. 6, 2001 press conference that it is not his job to clean up the airwaves.

“I think there’s a lot of garbage on television,” he said. “There are a lot of things children shouldn’t be seeing. But I don’t know that I want the government as my nanny.”

Salon reported:

Also, during his (2001) inaugural press conference as chairman, when asked about broadcast indecency, Powell quipped, “I don’t think my government is my nanny. I still have never understood why something as simple as turning it off is not part of the answer.”

Powell also stressed concern about trampling over rights in order to regulate indecent content, telling the Washington Post, “It’s better to tolerate the abuses on the margins than to invite the government to interfere with the cherished First Amendment.”

In April 2002, Chairman Powell, in a speech before the National Association of Broadcasters, again talked about his reluctance to go after foul-mouthed broadcasters. He said:

Every time something sort of salacious or edgy comes on television, we hear very strongly from very different viewpoints about it. But, the same community taught me that we’re supposed to be a place of a marketplace of ideas, antagonist voices, unpopular viewpoints, and unpopular images and that our society is strong enough and robust enough to sustain that, and that rather than stamping it out under the boot of a government authority, we can adapt and tolerate it.

I thought that’s what America was about and the First Amendment was about, and so I always am nervous when it is propounded that even though certain segments of the population really like something, we should still stop it because we know better.

I was at the Powell speech at the 2003 National Association of Broadcasters convention last spring when Powell was directly asked why the FCC did not use the “death penalty” to pull the licenses of broadcasters who were stepping over the line of decency. Powell, playing to the crowd of broadcasters, defended free speech and said he was interested in the chronic serial violators. He did not say he needed a bigger stick to go after anyone.

As a writer for the Indy Star said:

Powell’s late arrival on the indecency issue is not just a matter of better late than never. After years of negligence on indecency enforcement, the FCC must now confront a broadcast industry in which a culture of coarseness is ingrained. No doubt the FCC will look comical getting tough on indecency after ruling last fall that rock star Bono’s f-bomb on NBC was OK. The FCC gave a financial slap on the wrist to a New York radio station that broadcast commentary of a couple having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The FCC didn’t raise an eyebrow over TV’s “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show,” and said it was OK for callers to a Buffalo, N.Y., radio station to talk about “urinating” on someone, because they were just using slang terms to indicate anger.

Food Fraud, The Cow That Says “Oink”

My Poytner.org pal Matt Thompson turned me on to this story in The Houston Press. The paper learned that some restaurants are advertising veal but serving pork without telling the customers.

The story includes this passage:

“That’s incredible. It’s scandalous,” said Rabbi Brenner Glickman, the president of the Houston Rabbinical Association and a rabbi at Beth Israel Synagogue, when I told him about the test results.

Serving pork and calling it veal is one of the most onerous frauds in the restaurant industry. The eating of pork is forbidden to Jews and Muslims, and deceiving them into eating it is a violation of their civil rights.

Jews who keep strictly kosher and Muslims who keep strictly halal can’t eat in most restaurants. But Glickman explained that the majority of Houston Jews attempt to follow the spirit of kosher law rather than keeping strictly kosher.

“I do not personally keep a strict kosher diet,” he said. “Like many Jews, I like to eat out in restaurants, but I abstain from ordering dishes with pork or bacon or shellfish. So this issue is very relevant to me. Substituting pork for veal is reprehensible. It means that Jews who eat in these restaurants who are trying to observe their religion are being deceived into violating the Torah. It’s repulsive.”

This is not the first time The Houston Press has found food fraud. Two years ago, the paper published “Fish Fraud.” That story revealed that the “red snapper” on the menu of many Houston restaurants was actually tilapia or some other cheap frozen fillet.

The paper also points out:

Pork-for-veal scams have been the subject of other newspaper investigations. A California restaurant was busted for exactly the same thing, according to a February 23, 2000, story in the San Jose Mercury News. Acting on a tip, Mercury News restaurant critic Sheila Himmel visited the restaurant and ordered veal. She then sent a sample of the meat to a lab, where it tested positive for pork. The chef admitted to the fraud, and Bella Mia restaurant was fined $60,000 by the Santa Clara County district attorney, Himmel said. The chef was fired.

Interesting aside, in Turkey, 48 people got sick this week after eating uncooked pork. They were told it was veal.

“My Doom” Worm

This is a bad one — a really nasty computer virus. Poynter started seeing it yesterday afternoon. C|net reported:

In one hour, Network Associates itself received 19,500 e-mails bearing the virus from 3,400 unique Internet addresses, (Network Associates executive Vincent) Gullotto said. One large telecommunications company has already shut down its e-mail gateway to stop the virus.

Once the virus infects a Windows-running PC, it installs a program that allows the computer to be controlled remotely.

Another C|net story says:

MyDoom is a mass-mailing worm that masquerades as a test message. MyDoom (w32.mydoom@mm, also known as Novarg, Shimgapi, Shimg, and MiMail.r) takes advantage of the ZIP file format’s ability to pass through e-mail filters. It also uses Kazaa to spread. Within the first few hours, MyDoom spread quickly around the world. It affects only Windows users, not those using Macintosh, Linux, or Unix. Much of the worm’s code is itself encrypted, and antivirus firms are still studying it. Because MyDoom spreads via e-mail and could severely slow or shut down e-mail servers with excess traffic, this worm rates a 7 on the CNET Virus Meter.

How it works
MyDoom arrives as e-mail with the subject line “Mail Delivery System,” “Test,” or “Mail Transaction Failed.” The body text reads: “The message contains Unicode characters and has been sent as a binary attachment.” The attached files are one of the following:


Nemo good for Aquarium Attendance

Al’s Morning Meeting reader Jim Sweeney at Government Computer News spotted this from The Hollywood Reporter:

One thing is certain, at both the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the most asked questions these days is “Where can we find Nemo?”

That scenario is playing itself out elsewhere as well. Said Hugh Dolly, spokesman at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon: “We did open a small clownfish — or anemone fish — exhibit, and it was popular with the kids. And you couldn’t stand by it without hearing kids say, ‘Oh look, it’s Nemo.”‘

The San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium features a single tank and a single clownfish (among other species) and even there, kids would notice the creature and call it Nemo, spokeswoman Dawn Campos said.

At the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., spokeswoman Carolyn Cox said there is only one clownfish at the facility, and it is in a tank that features sea horses. But when kids notice it, they often cry out, “Free Nemo! Let him out! Let him out!”

We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.

Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, story excerpts, and other materials from a variety of websites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed, and a link will be provided, whenever possible.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

More News

Back to News