Clear Channel Communications Inc. (search) is being criticized by women's health advocates over a Christmas contest that granted breast enlargement surgeries to women in four cities.
The "Breast Christmas Ever" contest was aired in Tampa, Jacksonville, Fla., St. Louis and Detroit and has drawn the ire of both the National Research Center for Women & Families (search) and the National Organization for Women (search). NOW has urged its supporters to file complaints against the company and its stations with the Federal Communications Commission.
The controversy comes within months of Clear Channel paying a record $1.75 million fine to resolve indecency complaints against New York-based shock jock Howard Stern (search), Tampa radio personality "Bubba the Love Sponge" and others. The station formally agreed to "clean up its act," FCC Chairman Michael Powell (search) said in June.
While neither group is alleging the breast surgery contest violated decency standards, they are complaining the contest promotes potentially dangerous surgery and leaves its winners with no legal remedies should the surgery go awry. Under the rules winners, who must be at least 18, must sign a waiver protecting the company from all liability claims.
"I try not to be judgmental about whether a large radio station should be giving away free toys to children instead of free breast augmentation," said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, a health advocacy organization.
"The issue here is the ethics of providing a so-called prize of a surgical procedure where the women have no protection if something goes wrong."
NOW is urging the public to send e-mails to Clear Channel and the FCC to complain about what it considers a "degrading and unethical contest." About 3,400 messages have been sent to the FCC and Clear Channel, NOW said Monday.
"It's not a decency issue, it's a health issue and it's a women's self-esteem issue," said NOW President Kim Gandy.
NOW has been active in lobbying the Food and Drug Administration against the marketing of silicone breast implants and has an ongoing "Love Your Body" campaign aimed at countering what it says are unrealistic body images promoted in the entertainment industry.
David Fiske, a spokesman for the FCC, said the agency does not regulate the content of radio station contests unless it violates decency standards. The FCC only requires radio stations to conduct contests exactly by the stated rules and to fully disclose the terms of the contest.
The FDA warns women on its web site that breast implant surgery has possible risk of infection, abnormal bleeding and blood clotting in addition to the general risks of undergoing anesthesia.
Clear Channel said last week it had nothing to do with the contest and that it was a decision by local station managers to hold the contest in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Still, on Tampa station WFLZ's Breast Christmas Ever rules posted on the web site, the station said Clear Channel Broadcasting was conducting the contest.
More than a dozen women were each awarded the $5,000 procedure based on e-mails they wrote explaining why they needed bigger breasts.
WFLZ General Manager Dan DiLoreto declined Monday to explain the discrepancy between the station's web site and Clear Channel's explanation Monday. He also declined to comment on the groups' criticisms.
In Detroit, station WKQI didn't list Clear Channel as a sponsor of the contest, and gave away only one surgery.
Jennifer Gery, a spokeswoman for Clear Channel, said the company had no oversight of the contests and didn't sponsor them.
"There is no reason to be concerned because it's not a Clear Channel-sponsored contest, Gery said. "We empower our local manager to make programming decisions."
In Tampa, a dozen women were awarded the procedure after writing the essays. The station claimed to have more than 91,000 entries. The Tampa-based contest, airing during the "MJ Morning Show," also aired on Clear Channel stations in St. Louis and Jacksonville.
The surgeries offered in the Tampa morning show are to be performed by William Adams, a St. Petersburg plastic surgeon, who did not immediately return calls for comment Monday. The doctor's web site includes pre-surgery and postoperative pictures of "MJ Morning Show" winners, but did not say when the surgery was done.