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The Federal Communications Commission has in the past denied broadcast licenses to companies that violated the law. Are violations of FCC rules that fall perilously close to censorship equally valid reasons?

That's an issue the courts may now have to decide. The FCC has delayed Infinity Broadcasting Corp.'s purchase of a Los Angeles radio station, saying it wants to study whether the commission has the legal authority to block the license transfer because of indecency complaints against Howard Stern, Infinity's popular but con-troversial on-air personality.

Infinity argued that a delay might cost it millions of dollars in penalties for failing to meet a purchase deadline.

FCC Commissioner James H. Quello says allowing the sale might "condone his conduct," referring to Mr. Stern and allegations of scatological language during his broadcasts. Another commissioner, Andrew Barrett, is worried that such blocking action might be "punitive" since Infinity has already been fined heavily for earlier on-air actions by its celebrity "shock jock." But Mr. Quello seems determined to at least delay the license switch as a sign that the FCC is still running the show, and that flouting FCC "public interest" regulations by letting Howard Stern do his thing can have consequences beyond fines.

If Commissioner Quello persists, and Infinity appeals the FCC decision, the courts will eventually determine where the FCC's regulatory powers begin and end.

With broadcasters continuing to push the program content envelope to build audiences, a final determination of FCC's authority can't come too soon.M

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