Public Relations Executives Caution FCC About 'Erosion of Free Speech'

Public Relations Executives Caution FCC About 'Erosion of Free Speech'
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Arguing that action could contribute to an erosion of free speech and free media guarantees in the U.S. Constitution, the Public Relations Society of America called on the FCC to rescind its request for authority to increase tenfold the fines the commission could levy on stations or networks the agency deems to have violated its indecency guidelines.
The bill passed by the House Commerce Committee would raise the current fines twenty fold; FCC Chairman Michael Powell had supported a tenfold increase.
In a letter, leaders of the nearly 20,000-member organization of professional communicators instead suggested to Powell that the FCC clarify the guidelines so broadcasters and their employees know exactly what they can and cannot do.
PRSA president and CEO Del Galloway acknowledged that many members of the trade association "probably are just as upset as members of Congress and Chairman Powell are" over recent instances of broadcasters and celebrities "pushing the boundaries of decency" with materials that were broadcast on public airwaves.
"But at the end of the day," he stated, "this organization stands solidly behind the First Amendment and its guarantees for free, open and candid expression. And sometimes that means you stand with people or organizations that say and do things that offend you to protect the freedoms of everybody else."
"The problem is that the FCC never has spelled out what's permissible and what's not permissible," said Reed Bolton Byrum, APR, immediate past president of PRSA. "'When in doubt, leave it out' cannot be an acceptable policy in a democracy that depends on free and open discussion. And, if we start losing small, independent broadcasters because they can't afford the risk of getting fined on some arbitrary application of a vague standard, all we'll have left are a few big media companies. And the fewer entities there are, the easier it will be to control them."

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