ETIN episode censored

by Beacon Staff • April 18, 2007

Emerson Talk and Information Network (ETIN), a subsidiary of Emerson radio station WERS, has its own controversial and politically incorrect broadcast, called "Ob-scenes," hosted by sophomore film major Jim Cummings under the DJ name "JimmyCThatsMe.,In the wake of shock jock Don Imus' recent termination, Emerson's Internet radio network's own controversial DJ is making waves.

Emerson Talk and Information Network (ETIN), a subsidiary of Emerson radio station WERS, has its own controversial and politically incorrect broadcast, called "Ob-scenes," hosted by sophomore film major Jim Cummings under the DJ name "JimmyCThatsMe."

The first episode of the contentious show was pulled from future replays after senior broadcast journalism major James Swierzbin, who was mocked during a skit in the episode, complained to ETIN advisor Dr. Marsha Della-Giustina and threatened to sue. According to Cummings, Swierzbin was also overheard threatening to "punch my face in" for the stirring episode in question, which featured a tale involving Swierzbin, a former opinion editor for The Beacon, beating a homeless man, urinating on himself and proclaiming his hatred for women.

If Swierzbin does sue, the DJ said he plans to plead insanity, claiming that at the time he recorded the shows he was in and out of hospitals with a drug problem which he has since overcome.

He also claims that he had very little control over what went into the program because he was so "out of it" when it was recorded in December 2006.

Sophomore performance for media major Chance Dorland, programming director for ETIN, said he supports the show but feels Swierzbin claim against his name being used on air was legitimate. Swierzbin declined to comment on his intentions to sue but both Della-Giustina and Dorland say the threats to harm Cummings do not sound like ones Swierzbin would make.

Dorland said he met with Jack Casey, general manager of WERS and advisor for ETIN, and Cummings after Swierzbin, who regularly appears on Emerson news broadcast television show WEBN, complained.

The half-hour program, which is recorded to sound like a professional news-talk show, airs between 10 and 11 p.m. and consists of real recordings of politicians like President Bush spliced by Cummings along with short creative skits written by the DJ. It has two disclaimers, one at the beginning and one at the end of the program, proclaiming the show to be fiction.

Casey said that before the show went on air, he checked with school lawyers and the network's FCC attorney to ensure everything would be legal. He found that the station was allowed to make fun of public figures, but that does not extend to Emerson students. Dorland said he understood that choosing a student for the skit was a bad idea.

Casey also said he does not check every program with lawyers because it would cost more than the college makes available for ETIN to run.

"We certainly, within reason, give students a tremendous leeway to be creative, but when one student in print or on airwaves attacks another student, then there is another issue involved," Casey said. "I hadn't anticipated a program where one Emerson student would fabricate a negative story about another."

The trio considered taking the show off the air entirely, but Cummings wanted to make more episodes. Instead, they agreed to never again air the episode with Swierzbin's name in it.

"I thought everything was resolved," Della-Giustina said. "Jack met with Chance and Jimmy and James and worked everything out to my knowledge."

Cummings said in the unlikely event that Swierzbin sued, he would not step down as host out of fear.

"But he's said he won't sue," the DJ said, adding that he believes Swierzbin is not aware of his true identity. Della-Giustina said Swierzbin does know who Cummings is and does not plan to sue him.

Casey called Swierzbin "gracious" for not pursuing legal action once it was decided the program would not air again.

Dorland, whose support Cummings says has always existed, said he was disappointed Cummings was apparently dissatisfied with the way the situation was resolved.

Dorland said he is not a part of the creative process but he does approve what goes on the air. He chose to air "Ob-scenes" because he felt the show was artistically done and very funny.

"The show pushes boundaries, but it's late at night," Dorland said.

ETIN, an Internet radio station, follows the same libel and slander standards as terrestrial broadcast stations, Casey said, not because it is required to but because Casey feels it better prepares students for working in the real world of radio. Dorland said both he and Cummings attended a libel workshop given by Emerson journalism professor and lawyer Laurie Ruskin, which prompted them to include the disclaimers.

"[Swierzbin] was upset, but he only had the text, not the audio. From the audio, you can tell it's meant to be funny," Dorland said. "We make sure it's pretty obvious that it's not true."

Even so, Casey said a court may choose not to uphold a disclaimer should a case be brought to trial and that broadcast stations should always err on the side of caution.

Dorland said he hopes this incident does not ultimately reflect badly on ETIN as a whole and that Swierzbin, while legitimate in being upset, should look at the broadcast in context.

"If you play something on ETIN, its not like future employers are going to hear it and not hire you," Dorland said. "You have to look at the audience and see that you can't take it seriously."

Casey said that in the future when students are employed by broadcast companies they will be subjected to the rules and regulations of that entity.

"This is ultimately a training ground for students wanting to go into commercial or noncommercial broadcasting," Casey said. "We teach students that there is a fine balance between free speech and being responsible."