Yellow bus, blue radio What children hear: Lurid broadcast on Anne Arundel school bus raised concern.

October 01, 1997

FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, these are confusing times. In a global sense, with communism fallen, communications have never flowed more freely. Yet in the United States -- model of democracy for the world -- fears increasingly arise about indecent expression, particularly as it affects young people.

The Supreme Court weighs obscenity on the Internet. Maryland officials propose a ban on investments in music companies that produce "gangsta" rap. Television comes under attack for airing so little programming fit for children. Howard Stern, Beavis and Butt-head and the late Tupac Shakur have alternated as symbols in a continuing great debate over the responsibility of media in society.

The latest dispatch on this front comes from Anne Arundel County, where a parent objected to the school board about the offerings aired over the radio on her daughter's school bus.

Diane Brown of Manhattan Beach became concerned when her 10-year-old complained that shows discussing provocative sexual themes were carried over the school bus radio. One morning's call-in topic dealt with menages a trois; another day's was about sexual addictions. (Mind you, this was months before any non-sports fan had even heard of Marv Albert.)

Ms. Brown brought it to the attention of her child's principal and the Board of Education, who, to their credit, took the complaint seriously. The driver was advised to be more discerning with passengers on board. With help from the PTA and an advisory group, the board may fashion a formal policy next month. For now, the system has advised the contractors who provide most of the county's school transportation to be aware of the pitfalls.

The school administration, understandably, does not want to get in the business of certifying appropriate "play lists." Nor does it want to ban radio play on the buses, because drivers are aided by weather and traffic reports. Music can help pacify a busload of children, too, drivers acknowledge.

Any bus operator, most of all a school bus driver, must understand that his personal listening preferences aren't always appropriate at work. Common sense is the best rule in such cases: If the programming becomes questionable for children, turn it off.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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