Transcript: FCC Commissioner Michael Copps on Indecency Crackdown

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, March 31, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.




JOHN GIBSON, HOST: A Stern warning for broadcasters at an indecency summit in Washington. The FCC (search) promises to clean up the dirty public airwaves. It's threatening huge fines and repeat offenders could lose their license to broadcast. That's a huge fine in itself. Earlier I asked an FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (search) is the party is over for broadcasters like Howard Stern (search), today's big question.


MICHAEL COPPS, FCC COMMISSIONER: That's not a decision for me to make. It's a decision for companies to make. I hope indecency will be out of business on the nation's airwaves. That's the important thing. That's what the American people want. They're looking for action. And they want to understand why this is happening.

GIBSON: Well, do you think that you can get the commission to actually enforce the death penalty on broadcasters for violating indecency rules? Are you going to be able to jerk licenses and put stations off the air?

COPPS: Well, let's begin with the fact that the FCC has been complicit in what's happened with indecency. We have not enforced the statute we are supposed to be enforcing. We have not used the tools and the implements that Congress has given us, and one of those very explicitly is to send to a hearing for license revocation some of these more outrageous cases on indecency. We ought to have been doing that for a long, long time now. And had we been doing that we wouldn't be in this predicament where we are with indecency.

GIBSON: What has kept the FCC from doing that? There have been license revocations in the past over other issues? Why has it not occurred over indecency?

COPPS: Well, you would have to talk to the individual commissioners. I've been pushing for this for three years since I arrived at the Commission. Maybe they didn't think it was a very productive issue for them. Maybe they thought it was too sensitive an issue to get involved in. Whatever they were thinking, they were running away from their responsibilities to enforce the law.

GIBSON: Well, what about this. Tell me how you get around this because I think this is one of the reasons that the commission has shied away from it. It amounts to a huge fine against somebody, an enormous fine, maybe upwards of $1 billion in some cases. And so they would sue. They would take it very seriously. Can the FCC defend a decision that pulls the license from a broadcaster for indecency?

COPPS: I think so. But let's get a little history here. We've never had a fine that even approaches a moderate cost of doing business. Every fine, for example, that has been levied against a Viacom could be paid for with one additional advertisement on the Super Bowl and the company would probably take a little profit to the bank on top of that.

GIBSON: I understand what you mean. I'm saying that pulling a license, not allowing a corporation to do business with a license to operate on the public airwaves amounts to a huge fine. Can you make that kind of a fine stick?

COPPS: Of course, we can. We have the law passed. We have it constitutionally sanctioned. Yes, we've been doing it. We should have been doing this long ago. We need to be using the tools that we have. This is a new media environment that we live in. It's a very consolidated environment. I think there is a relationship we need to be looking at between the rising tide of indecency on the media and the rising tide of media consolidation. Fewer and fewer companies owning more and more stations and programming them toward niche audiences and 18 to 34-year-old eyeballs to sell products. That doesn't lead to whole lot of family friendly and child friendly kind of programming. I begged my colleagues to look at this connection between consolidation and indecency before we voted last June to loosen the media ownership rules. And all I got was a deaf ear on that. And we are paying the price now. And I can tell you this our kids are paying the price too.

GIBSON: I will return to my original question. Does all of that mean that Howard Stern's out of business?

COPPS: I'm only going to say that I think if we do our job and industry does its job that people who use the airwaves to flaunt indecency in our kids' face will no longer have access to the people's airwaves.

GIBSON: Commissioner Copps, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

COPPS: Thank you.


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