FCC declines to regulate pay media

Even though legal analysts contend it would violate the U.S. Constitution, some broadcasters — stung by the FCC’s recent indecency initiative — have been urging the commission to regulate the content of pay media such as cable television and satellite radio.

Last week, the FCC formally denied the request of a broadcaster who is unhappy with radio shock jock Howard Stern’s public threats to destroy over-the-air radio by moving his show to Sirius satellite radio where he is free to say anything on the air.

FCC Media Bureau Chief Ken Ferree said in a one-page letter that there is no basis for the FCC to revisit its precedent to exempt subscription-based media services from oversight for indecent content. That precedent, he noted, is supported by existing case law.

Saul Levine, president of Mount Wilson FM Broadcasters of Los Angeles, an owner with three radio stations, asked the FCC to launch a rulemaking to subject satellite broadcasters to the same indecency standards as terrestrial broadcasters.

Both radio and television broadcasters who use the public’s spectrum at no cost have complained that the FCC’s indecency provisions make it hard for them to compete with pay services. However, courts have long held that subscription media enjoys protection against content regulation because subscribers pay to access the programming they prefer.

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