Monday, March 3, 2008

Return to Civil Discourse?

(Originally posted April 19, 2007)

The firing of Don Imus was covered extensively by the media – and probably would still be a “front page” item, were it not for the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Sadly, Imus’ characterization of the women who play basketball for Rutgers as “nappy-headed hos,” was not atypical for Imus. A bright and articulate guy, Imus has traded in “edgy” comments for years, apparently emboldened by getting away with ever-increasing gross and/or offensive remarks, More sadly, he is not alone.

The airwaves remain filled with language and topics that perpetrators exchange for tidy paychecks from companies that trade in the business of bad taste. Of course, these same entities – like CBS and MSNBC – have done some good things over the years, too. That’s no excuse for tolerating, even encouraging and nurturing, program content that would never have been broadcast in days gone by.

Last week, I doubt that there was a broadcast market in the country not subjected to a poll asking, “Should Don Imus be fired?” Then later, after he was fired by both MSNBC and CBS, “Should Don Imus have been fired.”

The answer, of course, is yes. But the better question is: Does the firing of Don Imus signal an end to the trashy talk espoused by Imus, Howard Stern, and dozens of wannabe so-called “shock jocks”?

Broadcasting would do well to consider a return to the days when the National Association of Broadcasters issued its “seal of approval” for stations that subscribed to the NAB Code of Conduct. Find out more about the "Code of Conduct."

Some would contend that such a return to yesteryear is absurd, that it would fly in the face of the First Amendment, and that it would be unenforceable. I plead guilty to being a bit nostalgic, but I doubt that our forefathers envisioned the kind of filth being spewed over the airwaves of the 21st century. Enforcing such a code probably is a big stretch, especially in a day when “local” broadcasters responsible to local audiences are nearly impossible to find.

Perhaps we’ll just have to settle for banishing such trash to satellite radio services, which seem to have found a revenue stream from audiences that like such programming. Just as pornography has always had an audience, I suspect such “pay” satellite channels might survive – even thrive.

Better there than on the free over-the-air channels that belong to the public. It would be refreshing to see a return to relative civility by those broadcast media outlets that have spewed trash over our public airwaves in recent years.

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