Is the era of broadcast indecency over?

St. Petersburg Times reporter Eric Deggans told my UNO Media Regulation and Freedom class that interest is waning in shock radio.  At the same time, he says two long wars and a deepening recession made the shock jocks and broadcast profanity less of an important issue for the nation.

At its core, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulation of broadcast indecency, despite existing laws, suffers from a weakening distinction between broadcasting and other media.  While the FCC once could argue that "spectrum scarcity" justified the separate licensing and treatment of broadcasters as, in effect, First Amendment "second-class citizens" (the Radio-Television News Directors Association -- RTNDA thought so), that argument is crumbling under the weight of the Internet. FCC policy was designed to assist parents in protecting children during times of day when kids were likely to be in the audience, but those same kids today are on YouTube, Hulu and other rich media sites. The mobile media revolution makes content regulation, even if supposedly "content neutral," just plain silly.  As "fleeting expletives" cases work through the courts as a reversal of earlier FCC policies, Justice Clarence Thomas has questioned the validity of the uniqueness of the broadcast context.  So, we're likely to see time finally catch up with the always suspect Pacifica (1978) 5-4 split decision that made George Carlin's seven words you can't say, the law of the land for now more than 30 years. 

Dr. Jeremy Harris Lipschultz is author of Broadcast and Internet Indecency: Defining Free Speech (2008).


Media: Work and passion

Disruption.  We're hearing a lot of analysts offer it as the description of Internet-powered upheaval. Businesses of all types are facing it because of the power consumers have to use social media and make choices based upon wants and needs. The key for changing industries, such as newspapers, seems to be to quit worrying about the old end product and refocus on jobs needed by consumers, other businesses and local communities. Clay Christensen's explanation here helps us see to see this.

In thinking more about this, I'd like traditional mainstream media to consider two fundamental consumer needs today: work and passion. Work is perhaps most obvious because we process information that helps us to do our jobs better or be more competitive. Clearly, we are information-seekers when it comes to this type of content. Passion refers to the media that we follow because we have interests beyond work.  For example, while I may have an interest in the UNO Maverick hockey team, clearly it is connected to my work as a professor. In contrast, my passion for the Chicago Cubs is deeper with roots in my growing up with them. My passion for the Cubs also has to do with family -- Dad was a Cubs fan and my brother took me to a couple of games -- as well as friends and what we might now call our social network. Thus, media will survive by feeding the need for information helpful in making a living, but also by recognizing and feeding a variety of passions.  In Nebraska, our mass media have thrived by feeding passion for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  There may be new media players and distribution methods, but the fundamental desires remain. Embrace the challenge to compete for audience attention, interest, time and trust.