WASHINGTON (AP) – Regulators proposed a quarter-million-dollar indecency fine against Clear Channel Communications on Friday, a little more than a month after hitting the nation’s largest radio chain with a record $755,000 penalty.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 4-1 to cite Clear Channel’s “Elliot in the Morning” show for nine alleged violations “that involved graphic and explicit sexual material, and were designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners.”

It was second large fine this year against the radio giant, which has recently promised to clean up its programming. Last month it fired the disc jockey known as “Bubba the Love Sponge,” took the Howard Stern show off the six Clear Channel stations that broadcast it and outlined new standards that include immediate suspension of any on-air performer accused by the FCC of airing indecent material.

In statements released with the announcement of the fine, three FCC commissioners applauded Clear Channel’s efforts but said penalties still were warranted for the “Elliot” show.

The FCC is seeking the maximum $27,500 for each of the alleged violations, or $247,500 in all, from a March 13, 2003, broadcast that included a graphic discussion about pornographic film star Ron Jeremy. Portions of the conversation were rebroadcast eight times in promotional spots for the show, hosted by Elliot Segal.

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Capps voted against the fine because he didn’t think it was severe enough. He said the FCC has received previous complaints about Clear Channel and Segal and should have considered revoking the licenses of the stations that broadcast the show.

“Such a “cost-of-doing-business fine’ is never going to stop the media’s slide to the bottom,” he said. “The time has come for the commission to send a message that it is serious about enforcing the indecency laws of our country.”

“Elliot in the Morning” is heard on Clear Channel stations WWDC in Washington; WRXL in Richmond, Va.; and WOSC in Bethany Beach, Del.

Clear Channel owns 1,200 stations nationwide. A spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the fine and whether Segal had been suspended as outlined under the company’s new policy.

Public and political pressure on broadcasters to clean up their programming has been heightened in the aftermath of the Super Bowl halftime show during which singer Janet Jackson’s right breast was bared instantaneously before a television audience of 90 million.

On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation that would boost the maximum indecency fine to $500,000 per incident. The Senate is considering a similar increase.

Federal law and FCC rules prohibit over-the-air radio and TV stations from airing offensive material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to tune in. There are no such restrictions for cable and satellite TV and satellite radio.

While the Supreme Court has defined obscenity – and in a landmark case told broadcasters they couldn’t air seven specific words – it never has clearly defined indecency. That is left to the FCC and its investigators.

Last month, the FCC proposed a record $755,000 fine against Clear Channel for the “Bubba the Love Sponge” show in Florida. Clear Channel did not contest the fine.

In testimony before Congress, Clear Channel Radio’s president, John Hogan, said he was ashamed of the show and supported higher indecency fines.



On the Net:

Federal Communications Commission: http://www.fcc.gov

Clear Channel Communications: http://www.clearchannel.com

AP-ES-03-12-04 1637EST



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