Jello, Indecency, and the FCC

by on December 6, 2004 posted an interesting piece on Saturday questioning how strong public support really is for the FCC crackdown on indecency. The piece is keyed off numbers obtained by Jeff Jarvis for his blog. Last month, you may remember, the FCC fined Fox $1.2 million for a raunchy scene on its (quite unsuccessful) reality show “Married in America.” At the time, the FCC said it had received 159 complaints about the show. But a FOIA request by Jarvis found that there were only 90 complaints, written by only 23 individuals. And 21 of those were copies of the same form letter.

Its not clear whether this case is typical–there were certainly more complaints about the Janet Jackson exposure, for instance. But in a related story, Mediaweek is reporting today that 99.8 percent of FCC complaints in 2003 were filed by one organization–the Parents Television Council. PTC has been responsible for a similar proportion so far this year, when complaints related to Janet’s expose are excluded.

All this reminds us that broad brush statements that the FCC is flooded with complaints should be taken with giant shakers of salt.

It also indicates that the FCC can be pressured quite easily even by a few complaints. The ABC report memorably quotes Chris Sterling of George Washington University as saying “the FCC is a leaning tower of Jello” on such things,” easily pushed one way or the other.

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