Editorial: Stern warning on content issue

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In the most disingenuous media moment since Claude Rains declared himself shocked to find gambling going on at Rick's Cafe, Clear Channel CEO John Hogan discovered last week that Howard Stern's radio show violated decency standards and suspended it from his company's stations.

Oh, yes, he discovered this the day before he testified in front of a House subcommittee investigating broadcast standards and practices. Hogan said Stern's show that morning was "vulgar, offensive and insulting ... to anyone with a sense of common decency." What's laughable is that the same statement could have been made about Stern's show on just about any day.

Clear Channel has the right as a media owner to make judgement calls on what content is appropriate for its audiences. And it has been under pressure. The Federal Communications Commission recently fined the company for violating decency standards. But its move last week, on the heels of announcing a "zero-tolerance" policy on indecency, panders to Congress and smacks of a publicity ploy.

There's a focus on content standards that's grown more intense since Janet Jackson's Super Bowl stunt, and it clearly will affect programming and advertising. Media owners are accountable for their offerings. That's why it's appropriate for companies such as Viacom to review their practices and set new policies if necessary. But while a public discussion and debate of content issues is appropriate, knee-jerk overreactions are not the answer. Nor are ill-informed calls for government regulation, such as those that came up last week regarding the role of advertising in childhood obesity. Last we checked, there aren't too many 7-year-olds who can grab a wallet, drive themselves to McDonald's and order a super-sized meal.

It's up to the media to act responsibly, and it's up to consumers-who have more choice than ever-to reject things they find inappropriate, whether it's the parent who says no to his or her child or the viewer who switches channels.

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