Jello, Indecency, and the FCC

by on December 6, 2004 · 6 comments

ABCnews.com 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 buzzmachine.com 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.

  • Grant Gould

    This suggests one easy and obvious method of advocacy: Find out when the PTC is going to send complaint letters, and arrage for twice as many letters urging the FCC to let free speech survive this time. Given that the letters need not even be unique or by different people, the blogosphere should be able to swampt the PTC without breaking a sweat.

  • Grant Gould

    This suggests one easy and obvious method of advocacy: Find out when the PTC is going to send complaint letters, and arrage for twice as many letters urging the FCC to let free speech survive this time. Given that the letters need not even be unique or by different people, the blogosphere should be able to swampt the PTC without breaking a sweat.

  • Reductio ad absurdum

    Alternatively, we could complain about EVERYTHING. Organize a campaign to complain about evey single inuendo and slip. This is likely to lead to one of two things:

    1) the volume of complaints makes it impossible for the FCC to enforce any action, or

    2) the FCC gets totalitarian and network TV is neutered, further driving audience to unregulated fare, thus making broadcast TV an unprofitable business. The censors get a Phyrric victory: there are no objectional broadcasts because broadcasting is no longer profitable, with unregulated fare (and presumably, more objectionable fare) available in ever greater amounts, because thats where the market went.

    I suggest we begin our complaints with “7th Heaven”. I’ve seen cleavage on that show, and they’ve discussed drugs, alcohol, and pre-marital sex. The horror!

  • Reductio ad absurdum

    Alternatively, we could complain about EVERYTHING. Organize a campaign to complain about evey single inuendo and slip. This is likely to lead to one of two things:

    1) the volume of complaints makes it impossible for the FCC to enforce any action, or

    2) the FCC gets totalitarian and network TV is neutered, further driving audience to unregulated fare, thus making broadcast TV an unprofitable business. The censors get a Phyrric victory: there are no objectional broadcasts because broadcasting is no longer profitable, with unregulated fare (and presumably, more objectionable fare) available in ever greater amounts, because thats where the market went.

    I suggest we begin our complaints with “7th Heaven”. I’ve seen cleavage on that show, and they’ve discussed drugs, alcohol, and pre-marital sex. The horror!

  • Anonymous

    Yes.. I agree ..8

  • Anonymous

    Yes.. I agree ..8

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