US decency campaign homes in on new target: radio knitting show

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The Independent US

So this is what the cutting edge of free speech looks like. The scene is an eccentric Los Angeles hotel with fusion Mexican/Moroccan décor and waitresses in fez hats. We know we're not in Kansas any more.

So this is what the cutting edge of free speech looks like. The scene is an eccentric Los Angeles hotel with fusion Mexican/Moroccan décor and waitresses in fez hats. We know we're not in Kansas any more.

The event is a celebration of a local comedian called Sandra Tsing Loh, who has become the latest cause célèbre in America's increasingly bizarre broadcasting decency wars. After the scandal of Janet Jackson's momentary breast-baring at the Superbowl in January and the zingers thrown at the shock-jock Howard Stern, it seems downright eccentric to be recognising a 42-year-old suburban mother as the latest victim of the Bush administration's crackdown on the airwaves.

But that is what Ms Tsing Loh is. For several years she has been a regular fixture on an LA affiliate of National Public Radio known for its dispassionate news coverage.

Then, a few weeks ago, disaster struck. Ms Tsing Loh was in the middle of "a subtle but luminous five-part series on the joys of knitting" when a four-letter word she meant to have bleeped out went on air unchecked.

Station manager Ruth Seymour hit the roof, immediately firing Tsing Loh. With the Federal Communications Commission in a smut-hunting frenzy, Ms Seymour wanted to be seen by all to have taken retributive action. "There are some things in life you go to the wall for. The right to use indecent language on the radio is not one of them," she said.

The listeners did not buy it. They flooded the station with threats to cancel their subscriptions if Ms Tsing Loh was not reinstated.

Some things you go to the wall for, but clearly resisting listener rebellion is not one of them. Seymour offered Tsing Loh her job back last week.

But Ms Tsing Loh had no interest in returning. "Unlike my other work," she noted in her victory party speech last week, "my firing has been an unqualified critical success."

It could be just the break she was looking for.

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