Regulation

Your Records, Please

The war on "indecency"

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The crackdown on "indecent" broadcasts did not end when Janet Jackson apologized for her Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. In July the Federal Communications Commission proposed a new requirement "that broadcasters retain recordings of their programming"—known as "airchecks" in the trade—"in order to increase the effectiveness of the Commission's process for enforcing restrictions on obscene, indecent, and profane broadcast programming." In other words, the government wants stations to keep tapes of all their programs so regulators can check the record when someone files a complaint.

The details are still hazy: The commissioners haven't decided how long the airchecks must be retained, and it's not yet clear whether the government will insist on recordings of all broadcasts or only of programs transmitted between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when "indecent" material is prohibited. But the commission hopes to resolve those questions and enact the new regulation as quickly as possible. When its "notice of proposed rulemaking" was issued on July 6, public comments were due just 24 days later.

The FCC is aware that the new requirement could be a burden on independent stations, and it has specifically requested comments on "the impact that retention rules may have on small broadcasters." But the news for the business community isn't all bad. As the industry publication Inside Radio notes, "Makers of digital aircheck equipment are in for a bonanza."