When Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute because she believes women should have access to affordable birth control, he crossed a line that also happens to be law. The following was lifted directly from the Federal Communication Commission's website:
It's Against the Law
It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours. Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the responsibility for administratively enforcing these laws. The FCC may revoke a station license, impose a monetary forfeiture or issue a warning if a station airs obscene, indecent or profane material.
The tenants of the FCC require that stations operate in the "interest, convenience and necessity" of the American public. Radio waves are public airwaves, and on-air talent and radio stations are licensed access by the government to use our airwaves. But thanks in large part to the deregulation of the FCC under President Reagan, the FCC has about as much power as a square of one-ply toilet paper in a manure storm. Sadly, whatever authority the FCC does have it rarely chooses to use in any meaningful way against conservative haters disguised as political pundits. Shock jock Howard Stern was fined a record-setting $2.5 million for his on-air indecencies, yet it's unclear if Rush Limbaugh has been fined ever. (Media experts believe the obvious disparity is a result of the power of conservative members of Congress who think he moves their agendas forward, along with those who are simply too afraid of ticking him off.)
What Mr. Limbaugh said to millions of listeners on air (including little boys and girls who get to add a whole new batch of adult words to their vocabularies like "blow job" from his daily broadcasts) was not only a complete nose-thumbing breach of his FCC-licensed responsibility, but a gender-based hate crime. If an on-air radio personality uses the public airwaves to defame any segment of our nation's population as Rush did, he/she should be ripped from the public's air. Using the public airwaves is a privilege that comes with responsibilities to our fellow Americans. It should not be used as a playground for the Rush Limbaughs of our nation to hate, rant and spew all the while attempting to hide under the guise of freedom of speech.
Millions of Americans and a majority of legislators seem to be confused about where and when the right to free speech applies. Mr. Limbaugh has the right to say whatever he wants in his home, on the street, or on his way to the pharmacy to get one of his many prescriptions filled, provided it is not a crime. He cannot yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater, and shelves his unlimited freedom of speech once on public air.
Back in the days before national radio syndication, individual stations lived in fear that they would lose their licenses to operate if an on-air personality did not stay within the navigational beacons set down by the FCC. Today, a syndicated personality such as Mr. Limbaugh spews his venom through hundreds of stations across the nation at once, making the FCC's job a bit more complicated.
What can the FCC to do? It has the power to revoke Mr. Limbaugh's license. It should take his license, and allow him to reapply after a year or so if ever. Further, all radio stations who aired his venom should be censured and fined by the FCC, along with his distributor, Premiere Radio Networks. This will let stations and distributors know that such acts of hate will not be tolerated.
If the FCC, Premiere Radio Networks and stations who broadcast The Rush Limbaugh Show are led by cowardice and don't take action, there are still actions that can be taken. Consumers can boycott advertisers of all Premiere Radio Network programs (you can find a list of programs on their web site). Marketing executives in media buying can stop placing advertising within the Premiere Radio Networks programming portfolio until it removes Mr. Limbaugh from the air. Advertisers who have left The Rush Limbaugh Show should stay gone.
As American citizens, we own the airwaves. It's high time we stop allowing those who spew hate to do it at our expense, and on our American-owned air.
Ms. O'Leary is a successful author, award-winning creative marketer, and issues-driven Independent. She can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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