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Student Broadcasters ask FCC to Give College Radio a Break on Indecency

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WBAR List of Words that Can’t Be Uttered on the Radio (Photo: J. Waits)

As Matthew has previously reported, the FCC is currently seeking comments from the public about its policies related to the broadcast of indecent material. Lots of folks (apparently there are tens of thousands of comments) have been weighing in with opinions on the subject (the deadline is July 18), and several groups focused on the interests of college radio stations have submitted arguments in favor of more leniency on this issue.

College Broadcasters, Inc. (CBI) just posted an article on its website encouraging student stations to file comments with the FCC. In the post, CBI Executive Director Will Robedee writes,

Will Robedee
Will Robedeewrites,

“The primary issue at hand is whether fleeting or isolated incidents of airing indecent material is actionable given the changed circumstances since the Pacifica …decision by the Supreme Court 35 years ago and how the FCC develops its policy going forward with respect to enforcement.”

In the post, Robedee highlights filings by the Student Press Law Center (see its filing here) and by University of California, Riverside’s station KUCR-FM (see its filing here). He states,

“The SPLC and KUCR comments focus on the following issues which we believe are pertinent to most of the membership with FCC licenses. Student stations should be given more latitude and/or the rules are subjective.  Given this subjective standard, the FCC should provide student stations with a lot of latitude before commencing action due the financial considerations and the lack of financial resources of student stations.

Student Broadcasting fulfills uniquely valuable community needs whose future is in jeopardy because of vague rules which do not, when enforced, do not discriminate on the impact of the the resulting fine would have on operations.  For instance, a $325,000 fine or even a $32,500 would be devastating to a student station, but not be more than a slap on the wrist for a large commercial operator. Fines must be scaled to fit the nature of the organization, not the nature of the licensee.”

The KUCR filing states, “For KUCR, with its small budget, an indecency fine would be catastrophic. The legal costs of responding to an FCC inquiry would be crippling, even if no fine were imposed.” Robedee points out that giving student stations a reduction in the minimum fines would be in keeping with the FCC’s recent ruling in the William Penn University case, where first time offenses are not fined as heavily for student-run stations. He writes,

“The same leniency policy extended to ‘student’ stations for paperwork mistakes should follow with respect to mistakes concerning indecent material.  Further, the leniency policy should be expanded to encompass all student stations who are primarily staffed by students, regardless of who advises them or who volunteers.”

KUCR’s comments to the FCC also delve into what constitutes indecent content. The filing states,

“We ask that the definition of indecency allow for the possibility of good-faith human error and encourage rather than punish programs of artistic and social merit. We also ask that the FCC’s enforcement policy give realistic weight to the scale, function and purpose of the station involved, that the FCC recognize the simple difference between big and little, commercial and noncommercial, and between sanctions that chasten and those that destroy.”

CBI is encouraging other student stations to file comments with the FCC in regards to the indecency issue by the July 18th deadline. CBI also plans to submit its own comments.

The primary issue at hand is whether fleeting or isolated incidents of airing indecent material is actionable given the changed circumstances since the Pacifica Decision decision by the Supreme Court 35 years ago and how the FCC develops its policy going forward with respect to enforcement.  CBI and others are concerned with the primary issue and other issues which are not precluded from discussion in this opportunity to comment on FCC rules.

There are literally tens of thousands of comments submitted in this proceeding, the vast majority seem to be copied text from those wishing to restrict first amendment rights.  There are some bright lights which need to be highlighted, including this filing by KUCR. and those filed by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC).  (As a side note, the KUCR comments were submitted by John Crigler, GARVEY SCHUBERT BARER – who, along with Melodie Virtue have spoken at CBI conventions the SPLC comments were filed by Frank LoMonte who has spoken at CBI conferences and has agreed to speak again this year).

The KUCR and SPLC bring a number of pertinent issues to the table and we think your station should do the same if it agrees with the arguments. It can do so by filing reply comments in this proceeding.  How?

Submit your comments at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/upload/display?z=xk7vd.  In the proceeding number page, enter 13-86.  This is the link for quick comments.  If you wish to file more detailed comments, use http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/upload/display?z=q3ljm .

The SPLC and KUCR comments focus on the following issues which we believe are pertinent to most of the membership with FCC licenses.

Student stations should be given more latitude and/or the rules are subjective.  Given this subjective standard, the FCC should provide student stations with a lot of latitude before commencing action due the financial considerations and the lack of financial resources of student stations.

Student Broadcasting fulfills uniquely valuable community needs whose future is in jeopardy because of vague rules which do not, when enforced, do not discriminate on the impact of the the resulting fine would have on operations.  For instance, a $325,000 fine or even a $32,500 would be devastating to a student station, but not be more than a slap on the wrist for a large commercial operator. Fines must be scaled to fit the nature of the organization, not the nature of the licensee.

The FCC has recently determined that student stations do warrant some extra leniency for first time “paper” offenses (see William Penn University (Docket No. DA 13-1074).  There is nothing in the record to suggest that student media should not be afforded the same leniency with respect to this issue when “student stations” have even a hint of being 100% student run with a faculty adviser.  For instance, as station with a staff adviser would not fall under the extra leniency policy recently established.   The extra leniency policy would not apply to ANY student station with respect to Indecency complaints.

This is patently unfair as student stations, advised or not (regardless of the status of the adviser) are learning grounds and as such, are expected to make mistakes, even in spite of guidance from advisers.  This is how students learn.  The same leniency policy extended to “student” stations for paperwork mistakes should follow with respect to mistakes concerning indecent material.  Further, the leniency policy should be expanded to encompass all student stations who are primarily staffed by students, regardless of who advises them or who volunteers.

– See more at: http://www.askcbi.org/?p=3982#more-3982


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  1. College broadcasters to FCC: we need more time on indecency proceeding | Radio Survivor - July 1, 2013

    […] plus student webcasters. CBI has filed comments with the FCC asking the Commission to take a kinder and gentler stance towards student run stations, given the consequences of a full FCC indecency fine on a cash […]

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