Economic Aspect to Broadcasting Decency Decline

KNOXVILLE – A University of Tennessee communications professor says there may be economic reasons for a decline in standards of decency in the broadcasting industry.

Dr. Barbara Moore says broadcasters have been criticized recently for airing liquor ads on network television and the growth in popularity of radio “shock jocks,” controversial show hosts who discuss sensitive issues that some say cross the line of decency.

“Whenever the economy starts to go bad, broadcasters get more desperate,” Moore said. “That’s when they’re more willing to push the edge of the envelope and see what they can get by with. When the economy improves, I think broadcasters will behave themselves a bit better.”

Moore says a recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission highlights the government’s renewed focus on decency issues.

“A woman complained that she heard a song on the radio that had unacceptable words bleeped out,” Moore said, “but even though the word was bleeped, she could still guess what those words were. The FCC upheld the complaint and punished the radio station for broadcasting the song.”

In a recent USA Today guest commentary, FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps wrote that radio stations should adopt voluntary standards of decency, after mandatory rules were dropped during deregulation of the industry in 1983.

Moore says she does not expect mandatory decency codes to make a return.

“I can’t imagine the courts allowing the FCC to be that strict on what’s said and what’s not said,” Moore said. “In the past, Congress has been willing to suspend anti-trust laws and let broadcasters get together to pass voluntary codes.”

“Broadcasters have been very reluctant to do this,” Moore said.

The Walt Disney Company has agreed to archive copies of its radio stations’ programming for 60 days after airing, in case a citizen complains about its content.