Are You 'Decent?' (Mass Media Regulation ) (Editorial)

Article excerpt

"The American people know there is a way to stop indecency without violating the Constitution," said a prominent national elected official in 1989. No, it was not Vice President Dan Quayle but the man who will succeed him, an angry Senator Albert Gore at the confirmation hearings of President Bush's appointee to the Federal Communications Commission, Andrew Barrett. According to the broadcasting trade magazine Radio & Records, Gore was upset at Barrett's suggestion "that there are limits to what the FCC can and should do to limit violent and sexually suggestive programming." The magazine also reports that Gore will oversee EC.C.-related issues from his post as head of the Clinton transition ream's technology office.

A substantial number of Clinton voters were attracted to him because of the perceived contrast between the inclusive image of Clinton and Gore and the bigotry and narrow-mindedness displayed at the Republican convention. For the first time in history, the percentage of 18-24-year-olds who voted increased-the turnout was 20 percent higher than in 1988, bringing the total youth vote to 11 million. Clinton defeated Bush by sixteen points among this group, for whom freedom of expression was a major issue. Rock The Vote, the largest registration group aimed at young voters, was explicitly formed to combat censorship in entertainment, and MTV's voter-registration slogan, "Choose Or Lose," also spoke to young voters' concern with free expression, a topic that has been a mainstay of MTV Music News since Gore's wife, Tipper, embarked on her campaign for warning stickers on albums in the mid-1980s.

A continuation of the Reagan/Bush F.C.C.'s policies against broadcasting "indecency" would be a betrayal of those younger voters and many older ones as well. One example of those policies is the unprecedented $105,000 fine the commission recently levied against Los Angeles radio station KLSX for airing the controversial and massively popular Howard Stern Show. Stern is an ideal target, because he offends many liberal women, blacks, and gays and lesbians, as well as Christian conservatives. But the notion of politicians telling millions of listeners that their tastes are unacceptable in the eyes of "the public" is a precedent almost as frightening as Pat Buchanan's call for a religious war. …