FCC punts on racism allegations
In a marked departure from the last time the FCC dealt with this issue, the agency has rejected a complaint regarding racial and homophobic content on a TV show.
The content in question comes from a Puerto Rico TV show called La Comay, where as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rejected a complaint from New York City representative Nydia Velazquez regarding racist and homophobic material, whose district is majority Puerto Rican and stretches through the three boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.
The show airs in Spanish on the Mega TV network in Puerto Rico, in which she described the program as an attack on immigrants and made racist comments. La Comay is a gossip/celebrity news show featuring a large puppet named after the show.
But in a statement, Pai said there’s nothing the agency could do, citing the protection of the First Amendment and Section 326 of the Communications Act. He said broadcasters have “discretion to determine what content to air on their stations, even if that programming could be objectionable to some viewers”, with the exception of obscene, indecent, or profane programming of course. Pai said the FCC is “generally prohibited from censoring content or dictating to licensees what the stations can or cannot air.”
Even though Puerto Rico is not a state, it is a U.S. territory and local broadcast radio and TV stations are bound to rules and regulations set by the FCC, as in the 50 states.
The show in question is a more crude version of Paramount’s Madame’s Place, a failed sitcom/talk show hybrid first-run strip from 1982, puppetered by Wayland Flowers. While Madame was a “outrageous old broad” lobbing double entrees and witty comebacks, La Comay often mocks blacks and LGBTQ people. In a recent show, the puppet (voiced by Kobbo Santarrosa) mocked a prominent Black Puerto Rican woman’s accent in a servant tone as she is running for office in Puerto Rico.
With numerous activists demanding La Comay’s cancellation, several clients have pulled their advertising from the show since June, when Latino Rebels first reported this story. These incidents come at a time when racial equity is being questioned in the media industry, from Hollywood to local newsrooms in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Mega TV is owned by Spanish Broadcasting System – the same corporate parent of Spanish-language WLEY-FM here in Chicago and other radio stations nationwide. Launched in 2006, Mega was also available stateside on some low-power stations, including WOCK-CD in Chicago. In recent years, Mega has been distributed mainly in Puerto Rico.
Santarrosa had a similar show (SuperXclusivo) on independent WAPA-TV but was canceled in 2013 after he resigned from the station over controversial comments he made through the La Comay puppet regarding the murder of a local public relations agent. La Comay returned to the airwaves last year through Mega, and took a brief hiatus this year due to the pandemic.
The FCC deciding to pass on this complaint is a marked departure on how the Obama Administration has dealt with this issue. Despite what Pai said about what the FCC can and cannot do, in 2013 Liberman Broadcasting entered into a decree with the agency and agreed to pay $110,000 in fines regarding a now-defunct Spanish-language Jerry Springer clone Jose Luis Sin Censura, which featured fighting, sexual content, pixelated nudity, and anti-homophobic remarks. The trash talker was canceled eight years ago.
However, there are numerous differences – while Censura did have bleeped and unbleeped profanity and violent content, Comay does not.
But the decision to pass tells you the stark differences between how Pai handles these type of issues as opposed to predecessors Julius Genachowski and Tom Wheeler. While Pai is technically correct, dismissing the complaints out-of-hand was expected given how Pai gave the shaft to minority communities when the lifeline program was cut back and accusing the courts on stymieing racial diversity in media ownership.
So while Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl and gets nailed while a foul-mouthed racist puppet get a pass, of course it’s the latest absurdity from an agency who has a questionable history of selectively enforcing policy.