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A Break For Radio's Bad Boy?

Up Front


Will radio shockjock Howard Stern and his employer, New York-based Infinity Broadcasting, wriggle out of $1.7 million in fines levied by the Federal Communications Commission for indecent broadcasts? Maybe, thanks to an obscure federal appeals court ruling in July.

In 1991, the FCC issued general guidelines to standardize its structure for fines. But local phone companies took the agency to court, arguing that the policy unfairly called for them to pay larger fines than other groups.

The appeals court for the District of Columbia recently decided, however, to totally void the guidelines--on grounds that they constitute a "rule" rather than a "policy." By law, public comment must be solicited before rules can be adopted. So post-1991 fines--including Stern's penalties--may be void.

FCC General Counsel William Kennard says the agency probably will reissue the Stern fines under pre-1991 rules. Still, Stern can hope: All five commissioners likely must vote to reissue. And three of them, including Chairman Reed E. Hundt, arrived after the initial Stern censure votes.EDITED BY JAMES E. ELLIS AND JULIE TILSNER By Mark Lewyn

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