I came across this story in Media Week recently. Can you recall all of the talk during the campaigns about media decency? The story got a bit of life several months ago when Janet Jackson “accidentally” disrobed at the Super Bowl. Since then, campaign rhetoric was soon followed by FCC fines for Hward Stern. The people were speaking, reports said, and the FCC was responding to the avalanche of complaints. Well, it seems there is more to the story.
Todd Shields writes in Media Week: “The number of indecency complaints had soared dramatically to more than 240,000 in the previous year, Powell said. The figure was up from roughly 14,000 in 2002, and from fewer than 350 in each of the two previous years. There was, Powell said, â€œa dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes.â€
“What Powell did not revealâ€”apparently because he was unawareâ€”was the source of the complaints. According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003â€”99.8 percentâ€”were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group,” writes Shields.
Nearly all of the complaints about the Janet Jackson debacle (99.9 percent) were from the same group. The FCC doesn’t monitor content to initiate indecency proceedings, says Shields. Instead they rely on complaints to initiate such investigations and proceedings. Knowing this, special interest groups have used the system to their advantage.
More from Shield’s story: “In such a system, even the number of complaints becomes an object of contention. For example, the agency on Oct. 12, in proposing fines of nearly $1.2 million against Fox Broadcasting and its affiliates, said it received 159 complaints against Married by America, which featured strippers partly obscured by pixilation.
“But when asked, the FCCâ€™s Enforcement Bureau said it could find only 90 complaints from 23 individuals. (The smaller total was first reported by Internet-based TV writer Jeff Jarvis; Mediaweek independently obtained the Enforcement Bureauâ€™s calculation.)
“And Fox, in a filing last Friday, told the FCC that it should rescind the proposed fines, in part because the low number of complaints fell far short of indicating that community standards had been violated. â€œAll but four of the complaints were identicalâ€¦and only one complainant professed even to have watched the program,â€ Fox said.” Read the entire piece at Media Week’s site. It’s very interesting, to say the least.