By Jim Watkins
Last year the Obama Administration asked the FCC to float the idea of having News Talk stations across the country submit samples of news coverage or topics that are discussed on the airwaves. When the federal government begins to inquire as to what content makes for news on Talk stations, you begin to sense danger ahead. Thankfully, the FCC got an ear full of negative reaction from General Managers and station owners, so the suggestion was quickly withdrawn.
That was then.
Earlier this year our recently appointed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch floated the notion amongst the nations’ mayors during a conference that people who deny man-made climate change should be arrested, or in the least fined. The suggestion was based on the notion that “deniers” are a threat to society, that by merely taking an opposite position and expressing it, meant you were committing a crime.
Just this morning the top social network sites Facebook, Twitter and others announced a massive campaign to stomp out “hate speech.” The idea is designed to prevent terrorist groups from using their sites to promote hatred or violent acts towards all people. Great idea, lots of unintended consequences.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has a long history of claiming the airwaves are full of “hate-speech” and that there should be laws against it. Hurtful speaking is no different from hurtful actions according to those who believe hate-speech is a lawful offense. And its not just a few people who think this way. Intolerance for those who hurl micro-aggressions has created the need for “safe zones” on campus so people can be safe from hurtful words and sounds that create anxiety.
While even the president warns our young minds that we should always be open to other people’s ideas, most recently the president also declared certain words describing racial origin should be stricken from federal documents, worlds like “illegal alien,” “oriental,” and “negro,” to name just a few racial slurs he and others consider “hate words.”
How long do you think it will take before Talk show hosts who question federal authority and attempt to call out hypocrisy or even just disagree strongly on policy issues will be deemed, as they are in England, as agitators “who spread hate and who incite violence?”
A majority of college students (a slight majority, mind you) believe some words and forms of speech should be banned if they are deemed offensive, but then who decides what is offensive?
The Federal government issues transmitter licenses to station owners that are “to serve the public interest.” These licenses can be revoked and fines can be incurred, fines that can force an operator to shut its doors. When the government deems certain kinds of speech as being contrary to the ‘public interest,’ and they can count on the popular support, license could be revoked in order to shut down voices like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham or Dennis Prager. You can be rest assured they will try.
Talk Radio is the last place where people can still exchange ideas without censor (as long as they don’t swear or threaten violence against another person). It is also the last media platform where people can disagree and even expose bad national policy in real time; the only filter is the producers hand on a delay or an off switch. When the mere suggestion of steep fines or the loss of license comes in the form of a phone call from some FCC agent working in tangent with the Justice department who believe such and such employee is spewing “hate speech,” then you will now totalitarianism has come to America.
I would argue most of the mainstream media; television, cable, print, even online is controlled or heavily influenced by either corporate or political interests. Talk Radio is still relatively free of corporate influence, amazingly. Across America everyday there are thousands of hosts who take calls and exchange ideas, and give lots of good information. It happens on the grand scale through syndicated programs of course, but the airwaves are also filled with plenty of local talent who touch the lives of the connected networks of a million of American communities.
It is only a matter of time before the power brokers in Washington realize this and begin to make their plans on how to control a medium that reaches over thirty million voters every single day. It is up to broadcasters to stand firm and protect free speech and access to free speech.But it also up to the people to insist our airwaves are kept far away from any kind of government censorship, subtle or otherwise.
Jim Watkins is the morning host of AM 820 News in Tampa Bay.