Thursday, February 26, 2004

GAGS NOT GAGS: That freedom of speech that Americans are currently being blown to pieces in Iraq to protect is getting a bit of a kicking back at home, as America's biggest radio company Clear Channel introduces a 'zero tolerance' policy. Now, of course, it's not totally down to Clear Channel that they want to tighten up on what their on-air talent does - they're being threatened with a USD755,000 fine from the FCC as a result of Bubba The Love Sponge's doings on his show from Florida (although not, apparently, the incident where he slaughtered a pig live on air - who wants to hear a blubbery creature squealing in dumb terror over the airwaves at breakfast, especially because this one didn't have the luxury of a Comedy Dave sidekick?). And with the FCC in prime, puritanical, Roundhead mode, it's even possible to understand Clear Channel's reluctance to question the overwrought and heavy-handed application of the code that is being imposed on America's media. What does suck, however, is the apparent rushing to do the government's reactionary job for them. CC will suspend - without further ado - anybody who gets a proposed fine levied against them (that is, as soon as the FCC announce they're considering a complaint); if the FCC do find against the presenter, they'll be sacked on the spot - and in the unlikely event that the FCC do decide to not issue a fine or a slap on the wrist, Clear Channel will still hold its own investigation and might sack the poor sod anyway. (It's interesting that, in announcing its new policy, Clear stated "Clear Channel is serious about helping address the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves" - thereby just accepting the highly dubious claim that there is a rising tide of indecency rather than suggesting that there might not be).

Now, nobody wants to have a world where kiddies are forced to watch Barney the Dinosaur talking about fisting and you can't switch on a radio without hearing the sound of three people shagging their arses off, but Clear Channel's bowdlerization of the airwaves is a jump way too far in the opposite direction: one allegation and you're off the air, and possibly fired even if the FCC do clear you? That's the way to encourage inventive, risk-taking radio. What if such rules applied in the UK? For a start, Simon Mayo's career would have been in tatters the moment he played the wrong version of whatever single it was he kept playing the non-safe radio edit. Mark Radcliffe wouldn't be going to Radio 2, he'd be off down the dole office following his accidental 'fuck' a couple of months ago. Sara Cox would never have survived the Ali G interview; John Peel would have been taken out and shot sometime around 1977. Chris Moyles has had so many Radio Authority findings against him he'd be lucky to get a gig on Oxford Street inviting passers-by in to look at the sale of old blouses and slacks. And that's just off the top of our heads. Clear is basically saying that not only must its staff be clean, there's no excuses, no apologies, no second chance for even a simple mistake - so, having successfully bred out any excitement in the music, it's now creating a second level of blandishment, by creating a climate of fear so strong at its stations that any presenter who wants to be able to guarantee his ability to provide his kids with spaghetti-os and twinkies will do little more than stick to a very tight script.

As an example of how stupid the new rules are: Clear has pulled Howard Stern from its network until it can be guaranteed it conforms to the diktat. Now, Stern has made some pretty dreadful radio, but is there anyone in the world who would tune in to his show unaware of what they might hear? To ban Stern until he can pledge to be safe for minors and nuns is akin to closing down a Ruebens exhibition until the organisers can promise there won't be any nudity.

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