Contradicting widely advertised claims of an “uncensored” broadcast, XM Satellite Radio has suspended “shock jock” duo Opie and Anthony for 30 days. Though XM broadcasts the Opie & Anthony show on a channel listed as “XL” for its explicit language, Gregg Hughes (Opie) and co-host Anthony Cumia apparently crossed the line when they allowed a guest known as Homeless Charlie to make jokes about sexually assaulting Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush, and Queen Elizabeth II. XM then announced the suspension after the pair read an apology which management at the satellite radio company deemed insincere.
The suspension occurs in the wake of several high-profile radio controversies, beginning with the firing of Don Imus from CBS Radio over his controversial comments regarding the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. A month later, CBS fired two more radio hosts, Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay of “The Dog House with JV and Elvis” for a prank call to an Asian restaurant.
As NCAC cautioned in the wake of the Imus affair, the subsequent firings and suspensions seem to suggest that interest groups are achieving a greater measure of leverage – particularly through the threat of boycotting station sponsors – to police offensive language on the air. While the Opie & Anthony suspension appears unlike the recent CBS firings in that the pair is expected to eventually return to broadcast, the implication of each incident is the same: that individuals may be punished for making, or even allowing, offensive comments on the air. Who's next?
In a press release announcing the suspension, XM radio stated that their purpose was “to make clear that our on-air talent must take seriously the responsibility that creative freedom requires of them.” However, the statement itself insinuates that the kind of creative freedom allowed on XM is a limited one, and that even the paid subscription radio service, which broadcasts under no FCC content restrictions, is not entirely free of censorship or corporate mediation. Meanwhile, some commentators have alleged that XM disciplined O&A to curry favor with the FCC, since government regulators are currently weighing the merger between XM and competitor Sirius Satellite Radio.
The allegation that the O&A suspension is intended to foster support for the XM-Sirius merger is evidenced by recent statements by atleast one executive of Sirius, referring to gaining FCC approval for the merger as an “uphill battle.” While XM claims that the suspension is meant to emphasize the importance of responsible creative freedom, however vaguely that is defined, their strongest commitment would seem to be the interests of their corporate shareholders, who would benefit from the merger should the FCC give it a green light. The FCC in this case seems to hold an undue amount of influence over a medium, satellite radio, which is outside of its regulatory scope.
For more details and opportunities to act now in support of free speech on the airwaves, see the resources below.
- People Against Censorship are leading a campaign to get O&A back on the air, including a planned demonstration in Washington, D.C. on May 25th
- The Lede, "Latest Shock Jock Outburst"
- LA Times Opinion Editorial, "A bow to the Nanny State"
- The NY Times, "Merger Would End Satellite Radio's Rivalry
- Twice.com, "Sirius Calls Merger Uphill Battle"