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Howard Stern – Freedom of Speech

Howard Stern is possibly the most famous radio personality in the country. Born in New York in 1954, Stern has a long resume consisting of radio host, television host, author, actor, and photographer. Married to Beth Stern, both Howard and Beth also take an active role supporting the adoption program with North Shore Animal League. Howard has been the talk show host of a nationally syndicated radio show since 1986, but this has not been an easy road to travel.

Howard has most often been known as a “shock-jock”, a radio talk show host who leaves nothing to the imagination. Even today anything goes on his radio show, sex, drugs, they talk about it all. With this kind of image Howard has been confronted over the years with indecency law suits. In 2004 Clear Channel, the radio giant that Howard then worked for was hit with $495,000.00 in fines from the FCC over listener complaints surrounding The Howard Stern Show.

Listening to the radio (AM/FM at least) is free to anyone who has access to a radio tuner, which includes children. Although one can never know who is listening and when, it is in the opinion of the FCC that indecent material should not be allowed on the radio. But what exactly constitutes indecent material? Here is an excerpt from the FCC website, located at http://www.fcc.gov/guides/obscenity-indecency-profanity-faq :

   “What makes material indecent? Indecent material contains sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity. For this reason, the courts have held that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely. It may, however, be restricted to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience. The FCC has determined, with the approval of the courts, that there is a reasonable risk that children will be in the audience from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., local time. Therefore, the FCC prohibits station licensees from broadcasting indecent material during that period.”

Just to be clear, this is what the FCC describes as obscene:

   “What makes material obscene? Obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment and broadcasters are prohibited, by statute and regulation, from airing obscene programming at any time. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, to be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test: (1) an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts); (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Supreme Court has indicated that this test is designed to cover hard-core pornography.”

Stern’s question at the time of his battle, and certainly mine and yours now, is: What exactly crosses the line as obscene? Where is that line? The FCC does not give a clear line in the sand, and how could you? It is vaguely written which allows for reinterpretation with each complaint. So your line and my line are probably different. And although it is safe to say that both of our lines have at one time or another (probably more than once) been crossed by the antics of Stern’s show. But does that give someone the right to tell him to stop? If you were in his shoes would you accept being told to stop doing what works for you? I’d say not.

Fast forward to today and Howard Stern is “America’s Judge” on the talent competition show America’s Got Talent, which airs in prime time on local television all across the country. It looks to me like he has done pretty well for himself (and yes, he still does his shock jock radio show on paid satellite radio 3 days a week). Howard Stern has never been one to let anyone tell him what to do or that he can’t do something.

Love him or hate him, it seems people do relate with the fact that we have a right to freedom of speech. When we infringe on someone’s rights to speak, we start a slippery slope to bigger government. Hey look out for Howard Stern, Americas judge who often interviews, hookers, porn stars, actors, congressmen and mayors and governors. Yup he has interviewed people from all of these walks of life….


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