December 1, 2005

Urgent Action: Fight the Parents Television Council, Ask the FCC to Deny NCIS Fine (sticky post)

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 16, 2005 @ 7:02 pm
Filed under: Action, PTC, FCC

Speak up now! (more…)




Proposed Indecency Fine Increases Sputter, Stall

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 30, 2005 @ 6:07 pm
Filed under: FCC, Indecency

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens has failed to pass during this Congressional session legislation that would increase indecency fines. After conservative activists crowed that this session would be the one in which fines were hiked by up to ten times, Stevens acknowledged yesterday that the legislation lacked sufficient support.

From the National Journal:

“Some folks think [the bill] is too weak, and some folks think it is too strong,” Stevens said of the bill sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. “We don’t have 60 votes to move the bill” in either direction, he added — referring to the 60 votes needed to cut off a filibuster on the Senate floor.

[…]

Stevens said he wanted the industry and family groups to meet again Dec. 12 [after November 29th’s “Open Forum”] and seek agreement on a consensus rating system that would apply to broadcasters and cable programmers. Stevens also noted that his committee will hold a Jan. 19 hearing on indecency.

But Kyle McSlarrow, chief executive officer of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said: “Any government mandate, in our view, is very clearly a violation of the First Amendment under the Constitution. We should take very seriously the notion that we should be careful in intruding on what we deliver, and how.”

[…]

Stevens said Tuesday’s forum was an attempt to bridge some of the differences about indecency and creating ties of family programming, and to promote alternative television-viewing options. “Kyle is right. Passing a bill [that applied indecency to cable] is going to be declared unconstitutional. That doesn’t get us anywhere,” Stevens said. “We have to find some middle ground here.”




FCC Source: Expect TV Complaint Rulings Soon, Radio Rulings Later

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 30, 2005 @ 2:46 pm
Filed under: FCC, TV, Indecency, Radio

Billboard Radio Monitor reports that the FCC will likely report on pending television indecency complaints by December 9th, the day that commissioner Kathleen Abernathy is scheduled to step down. (For the record, various sources have been promising that the rulings would take place “in upcoming weeks” for several months now.)

The rulings may make the agency’s nebulous criteria clearer.

From Billboard:

According the timetable of an FCC source, [television complaints] would need to be voted on by, or before, Friday, Dec. 9, Abernathy’s last day as a commissioner. This same source said a package of radio-related NALs won’t be released until early 2006.

The timing is such that it would also give FCC chairman Martin a chance to show progress on the indecency front by issuing a set of indecency decisions within calendar year 2005. After a record-setting number of fines issued in 2004, the FCC hasn’t written a single NAL for indecency this year.

Another source, a communications attorney and a former staffer at the FCC, suggested that both packages would make interesting reading “if they [the commissioners and staff] give any guidance.” This source suggested that the creation of these two packages, if they do include more than a few NALs, also would be a relatively unique set of items handed down by the FCC. The only other example of a set of NALs being handled by the FCC as one package was in January 2005, involving complaints lodged by the Parents Television Council.

“The easiest way to do a package like this,” said the source, “is to take, say, five NALs that are indecent and say ‘These are indecent and here’s why,’ and to take another five NALs that are not indecent and say so. The harder thing is to take five NALs that are at the margin and say ‘These are at the margin and here’s why they’re indecent,’ and then to take another five, that are also at the margin, but aren’t indecent and to explain why.”




Showdown at the FCC Corral

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 30, 2005 @ 11:56 am
Filed under: PTC, FCC, Government, Indecency

As Chris Zammarelli told you earlier, some strange music has been emanating from FCC songbird (and Chairman) Kevin Martin.

Chris pointed to a report of a report stating that Kevin Martin had come out in favor of “a la carte” cable” programming. (It’s not the first time Martin has pushed for a la carte — he’s been doing it since his days as former Chair Michael Powell’s mild-mannered nemesis.)

Martin’s most recent push for a la carte programming came during an “open forum” on indecency sponsored by Ted Stevens, head of the Senate Commerce Committee — that is, the one with jurisdiction over FCC regulations.

The indecency forum was concocted by Stevens ostensibly to allow disparate voices to speak out on pending legislation that would increase indecency fines ten-fold, along with other aspects of the indecency debate. Some watchdogs, however, feel that the forum was nothing more than an attempt to lure the cable industry to the bargaining table and to publicly hog-tie them. That is, in fact, pretty much what happened.

Broadcasting & Cable reports that the meeting turned into a showdown between Kevin Martin and National Cable Television Association chief Kyle McSlarrow.

At the Senate Commerce Committee’s “Open Forum on Decency” on Tuesday, Martin said that he had the FCC’s chief economist, Leslie Marx, draft an analysis that counters the commission’s previous stance that forcing cable systems to sell all programming a la carte the way-they sell pay movie networks like HBO and Showtime-would substantially increase consumers’ costs because operators and networks would have to raise prices.

Martin said that the old report prepared by the FCC Media Bureau “makes mistakes in its basic calculations” and is based on “incorrect and biased analysis.” A new report to be issued by commission staff soon shows that a la carte “could be economically feasible and in consumers’ best interest.”

In fact, Martin said, applying a la carte to the digital tier would actually lower cable and satellite bills by 2% — a finding he said was omitted from the original staff report

Martin outlined other options to regulate content, including extending broadcast indecency rules to include cable and satellite services, and mandating family friendly tiers.

[…]

McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, came out Tuesday morning clearly against a la carte, tiering or indecency regulations for cable. McSlarrow said the Supreme Court has “very clearly” ruled in the past that any restrictions of that sort would be a violation of the First Amendment.

McSlarrow seemed to take dead aim at a la carte, comparing the idea of letting consumers pick and choose their cable channels to allowing newspaper readers to subscribe only to the sports section. McSlarrow said the multitude of channels helps provide the economic base for cable to carry several children’s channels. “The cable industry invented diversity of programming,” McSlarrow said.

McSlarrow said the technology already allows subscribers to block channels they find objectionable, and that it’s easy to do. “It’s four clicks and a scroll on the remote,” he said. “It’s not a heavy lift.”

Mandating a la carte, he argued, would “end up hurting the very customers we’re trying to help.” He ended his short presentation by urging legislators “to take government mandates off the table.”

Meanwhile, the cable industry received an additional blow from one of its own: The Mouse.

A Walt Disney Corp vice-president Preston Padden went on record as saying that he saw no need for the FCC to continue use separate standards when judging the indecency of broadcast and cable/satellite programs. The Disney corp’s cable holdings (ABC Family, Lifetime, ESPN, the Disney Channel, etc.), as you might imagine, would be relatively safe from indecency fines should cable and satellite get the ball and chain. Disney also owns broadcast network ABC, home of Desperate Housewives — which indecency crusaders like the Parents Television Council love to love to hate.

So, calling for regulation of cable and satellite TV isn’t a big risk for Disney. In fact, it may help them curry favor with the Feds. But are they also going to bat for a la carte, which would effectively allow cable and satellite subscribers to opt-out of paying for Goofy programming? Not so much.

Again from B&C:

Yet Padden also argued against a la carte, claiming it would cost cable operators billions of dollars just to provide the proper set-top boxes that would enable a pick-and-choose method of cable viewing. Disney’s gambit, it appeared, was a way for Disney to come out in favor of expanding indecency regulations to cable while defending the current cable delivery system.

Disney-owned ESPN is one of cable’s most expensive channels with the cost paid for by operators; if consumers had to pay for it, the reasoning goes, not enough fans would pay for Disney to continue to pay to show major league sports.

In the end, it all came back to the threat of increased indecency fines.

“As we approach 2006, we ought to look at getting a bill that will deal with this subject,” said Co-Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Congress is actually considering four bills that would toughen rules against the transmission of indecent content. “This is just a statement of fact,” said Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). “We’re going to do something this time.”

[…]

Passing laws limiting speech is tough
, many noted. Stevens, acknowledging that, said if courts overturned new indecency legislation, it “would be a great disappointment to the American family.”

Um…. And a great relief to the American Constitution, no?

Anyway, no story on indecency would be complete without the blathering of Parents Television Council president Brent Bozell. Yep, he was at the meeting too. Here’s what he had to say:

Some argued that the rating systems and v-chips don’t address the main issue of the content itself. “No one’s addressing the pothole,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council.

I hereby address the pothole: Bozell, stay out of my living room and concentrate on your own. Thankyouverymuch.




FCC Head Wants to Control Indecency on Cable

Posted by Chris Zammarelli
November 30, 2005 @ 6:01 am
Filed under: FCC

According to a CongressDaily article summarized in The Earlybird, FCC Chair Kevin Martin asked Congress to grant his agency the power to regulate content programming on cable and satellite services.

Time to write to your respective elected federal officials!




Another Boob Controversy?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 21, 2005 @ 5:50 pm
Filed under: FCC, TV

From People Magazine:

Boob tube, indeed. Eagle-eyed TV watchers got more than an eyeful of The OC star Mischa Barton on last Thursday’s episode of the FOX nighttime soap, prompting some to wonder if the Federal Communications Commission will soon be tuning in.

According to a video clip on the Web site TVgasm.com, the 19-year-old Barton’s breast was exposed during a darkly lit scene in which she popped out of bed and briefly popped out of her pajama top. (The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it video clip is available at iFilm.com.)

[…]

Some are wondering whether FOX will face complaints to the FCC — given the flap caused by Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction…” and groups that stepped forward to cry foul.

But so far, “we have not received any complaints,” a network spokesman told New York’s Daily News Wednesday.

TV coverage of this has been minimal, as far as I’ve seen.

Maybe the public is more accepting of a flash of nipple during a soap-opera than during the Super Bowl. Mischa Barton’s character was sitting in bed, and not dancing in front of a stadium of people.




AP Reports on Violence Portrayed on TV

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 20, 2005 @ 1:13 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, PTC, FCC, Free Speech?, TV

David Bauder of the Associated Press writes:

The body count in prime-time television these days rivals that of a war zone. The popularity of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” its spinoffs, imitators and other crime or supernatural shows has made network TV home to an astonishing amount of blood ‘n’ guts, which has attracted little notice due to a preoccupation with sex.

During the last week of September, there were 63 dead bodies visible during prime time on the six broadcast networks. That’s up sharply from the 27 bodies counted during the same week in 2004.

This year, channel surfers in that one week could spot:

— The lead character in Fox’s “Bones” discovering a badly decomposed body hanging in a tree, crows picking on the remains. The maggot-covered head falls off and lands in Bones’ hands.

— A man preparing dinner on the WB’s “Supernatural” when his sink suddenly fills with water. He reaches in and something grabs him, pulls his head in the water and drowns him.

The Parents Television Council, headed by Brent Bozell, supplied those statistics:

The prime-time body count was compiled, after a request from The Associated Press, by the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that keeps tapes of network programming.

Yet the PTC, which frequently files complaints with the Federal Communications Commission about network fare, admits that its focus has primarily been on sex, not gore. One reason is that there’s no government agency concerned with these issues, said Melissa Caldwell, the PTC’s research director.

The council prefers to steer advertisers away from programming it disapproves of, but hasn’t started any campaign against a broadcaster for violent content this season. The closest it came was a protest this month about an episode of CBS’ “NCIS” where a stripper had her throat cut, primarily because it was shown before 9 p.m.

Americans “seem to have more of a taste for violence, unfortunately, so it’s a little bit more difficult to get people worked up over it,” Caldwell said.

My advice to Melissa Caldwell: Try to get people worked up over free speech, over protecting their right to decide what to watch and what not to watch, without government interference.




Is the FCC Heading Towards Intolerance?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 18, 2005 @ 10:55 am
Filed under: FCC, Government, Indecency

A moderate FCC Commissioner is leaving.

Kathleen Q. Abernathy wasn’t a big supporter of FCC indecency fines, according to the WFMU blog. She’s leaving December 9, 2005.

Will her replacement be someone eager to levy massive fines against broadcasters, for content some people find offensive?

Will the FCC ever produce a clear definition of indecency, and let broadcasters know what not to say?

Stay tuned to SpeakSpeak News.

« Update Evening of November 18, 2005 »

Then again, maybe Kathleen Abernathy isn’t such a wonderful woman to have at the FCC, anyway. This previous SpeakSpeak article quotes her advocating heavier indecency fines.




Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 15, 2005 @ 6:44 pm
Filed under: FCC, CensorWorld, Free Speech, Government, Indecency

From a live chat with Washington Post reporter Frank Ahrens:

Wheaton, MD: Why would the FCC attack Howard Stern but not Oprah, for having the exact same content?

Frank Ahrens: It’s about context AND content.

If Oprah says, “today, parents, we’re going to talk about what your kids are doing sexually so you will know what’s going on,” the FCC says that’s different from Howard Stern saying, “today, we’re going to talk about what kids are doing sexually so lots of people will listen to my show.”

For instance, if a local morning deejay drops the f-bomb on his show in a joke, that’s likely going to get an indecency fine. If an NPR station plays an FBI wiretap of a mobster cursing, that probably will not get an FCC fine.

The answer was challenged later in the chat, sarcastically:

Columbia, MD: This is why my generation doesn’t take the FCC seriously:

The holy Oprah talks about tossed salads on her talk show. She’s only doing it to inform, to educate. What a saint. Thank you, Oprah, for giving an explicit, graphic definition of a rainbow party during the day in front of my children so that I may educate them never to do that.

The evil Howard Stern is only doing it for ratings. Of course everyone knows this, so we don’t allow our children to listen to his show. But let’s fine him for doing what we already know he does.

Oprah is an educator. Howard Stern is a scumbag. You’re all a bunch of hypocrites.

Frank Ahrens: Passionately stated. Thanks.

This questioner may be implying that comedians (George Carlin, Howard Stern) deserve as much freedom of speech as people who aren’t funny.

For anyone who wants a definition of those sexual terms: tossed salad, rainbow party.




Advice for the Easily Offended

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 15, 2005 @ 3:18 pm
Filed under: FCC, Government, Indecency

Amanda Toering quotes an essay below from a man complaining about TV shows he finds offensive.

Matt Butler, director of the Florida Parents Televising Council, is upset by the TV shows “Desperate Housewives” (on broadcast television, ABC), and “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck” (on cable, FX.)

Here are some suggestions I have for him.

1) Change the channel.
2) Cancel cable. No more “The Shield” or “Nip/Tuck.”
3) Ask the cable company to block ABC and FX.
4) Program your remote to skip ABC and FX.
5) Rent or buy a movie on DVD or VHS.
6) Rent or buy a TV series season on DVD or VHS.
7) Go out to see a movie in a theater.
8) See a play.
9) Visit wholesome websites.
10) Continue watching TV shows that offend you…

…but keep it to yourself instead of trying to change the FCC indecency laws to limit what the rest of us can watch.




Radio Host Tom Joyner: Don’t Fine Station Owners for Vulgarity, Fine the Potty-mouths

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 15, 2005 @ 12:04 pm
Filed under: FCC, Indecency, Radio

Long-time radio host Tom Joyner has opined that the way to prevent dirty words from leaking onto the airwaves is to fine shock jocks — not their employers.

Here’s what Joyner has to say in the Raleigh-Durham News & Observer:

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska plans to reopen hearings later this month on obscenity in broadcasting. Congress persists in beating that dead horse and, unless it changes tactics, this will continue to be much ado about nothing.

I spent 42 years in radio and television broadcasting. I ran a morning show on radio for more than 15 years at a time when we had to find a way to be funny without being profane. Even “hell” and “damn” were banned. Board operators (DJs) were licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, and it was not worth losing our livelihood over potty-mouthed humor.

In time, the FCC dropped that requirement and the era of “shock jocks” dawned. The agency, with pressure from Congress, has been trying to get that genie back into the bottle ever since. Fines against the owners of media outlets have greatly increased, yet the problem remains. Apparently some in Congress feel that even greater fines against station owners will do the trick. They are wrong. Following my DJ days, I owned 44 radio stations in 13 states and so my perspective comes from both sides of the microphone.

Owners of radio and television stations do have a responsibility to police their airwaves as much as possible. They have to try to balance the shock jocks’ inclination to push the envelope against the need for increased ratings. Without those ratings the station loses advertisers and profitability. So what is the answer?

Continue to fine radio and television station licensees when the content of their broadcasts goes over the line — but reinstate the licensing of radio announcers, and impose fines or suspensions for announcers when their activity brings sanctions against their employer.

Shock jocks could care less when the FCC fines someone else, but when the money comes from their own pockets it will get their attention. Repeated violations should result in a revocation of the offending DJ’s license to broadcast. That would introduce them to a real world where saying “Would you like fries with that” would allow them to exercise their vocal chords.

Congress is wasting its time, and our money, ratcheting up fines against the owners of broadcast stations. Most, if not all, have already taken positive steps to curb the abuse — but when a legend in his own mind leans into the microphone and deliberately crosses the bounds of decency at 6:15 in the morning, the licensee is vulnerable.

Don’t just ratchet up the fines against the person who owns the house. If the arsonist pays a stiff penalty, we’ll be getting closer to the solution.




American Family Association Feels Left Out, Starts Own Complaint Machine

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 14, 2005 @ 11:37 am
Filed under: Right Watch, FCC

Broadcasting and Cable reports that the American Family Association has launched its own online complaint generator. Poor AFA folks must have been jealous of all the attention the Bozellians get.

From B&C:

Saying that the FCC is encouraging viewers to contact the commission about indecent programming–and perhaps not wanting all the indecency complaints to appear to come from only one group–the American Family Association now has its own Web link to easy e-mail filing.

“You can file your complaint by clicking on the television graphic on the top left hand side of our website at www.afa.net, ” said AFA founder Donald Wildmon in a letter to AFA members. “This form will be active 24/7 and will always be on the front page of www.afa.net.”

AFA (formerly the National Federation for Decency) is also asking churches to put this note in their bulletins:

“TV viewers now have a quick and easy way to file a complaint with the FCC concerning obscene, indecent, and profane content on television and radio. Simply click the television graphic on the top left-hand side of the web site at www.afa.net. There is no charge, and filing your complaint takes only a few minutes.”

If AFA is looking to ramp up its indecency complaints, watch out. We still remember when Wildmon included B&C as targets in a postcard campaign complaining about network TV programming. The mail–some 50,000-plus cards–came in canvas bags like the ones they heaped on the judge’s desk in Miracle on 34th Street.

Some groups opposed to the FCC’s stepped up indecency enforcement, including the network-backed TV Watch, suggest that the level of viewer disaffection with content has been inflated by Parents Television Council’s easy, online e-mail form.

In the most recent FCC tally of complaints, in fact, a big jump in July was attributable entirely (99.9%) to PTC.

The FCC has been trying to simplify its complaint form, has created a new indecency enforcement section on its Web site, and has hired anti-indecency activist Penny Nance as a policy adviser.

The American Family Association is also in the radio business — it owns over 175 radio stations in small markets across the country. In 2002, it ranked 5th in the station-ownership race.




Progress and Freedom Foundation: FCC’s Complaint Tabulation Is Screwy

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 14, 2005 @ 10:39 am
Filed under: PTC, FCC

The “market-oriented” think tank Progress & Freedom Foundation has analyzed the way the FCC counts indecency complaints — and what they’ve found is some questionable math.

From the Hawaii Reporter:

The Federal Communications Commission tallies complaints regarding broadcast indecency in a matter different from all other complaints received by the agency, finds Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Adam Thierer, and the methodology changes resulting in those differences have inflated the total number of complaints.

These are the findings of a PFF study titled “Examining the FCC’s Complaint-Driven Broadcast Indecency Enforcement Process” (pdf).

The FCC in recent years has increased its fines for broadcast indecency and has cited rising complaints as a reason. Thierer’s study calls into question the reliability of those quarterly compilations, the most recent of which was issued by the FCC Friday.

“The FCC now measures indecency complaints differently than all other types of complaints,” says Thierer. “In so doing, it permits a process whereby indecency complaints appear to be artificially inflated relative to other types of complaints. Journalists, policy makers, social scientists, and others should weigh this disparate treatment when considering the significance of the reported figures.”

In recent years the FCC has quietly and without major notice made two methodological changes to its tallying of broadcast indecency complaints, both changes urged upon the FCC by a single advocacy group targeting broadcast indecency:

On July 1, 2003, the agency began tallying each computer-generated complaint sent to the FCC by any advocacy group as an individual complaint, rather than as one complaint as had been done previously. The advocacy group benefiting from that change had challenged the FCC to make the change by June 30th and boasted later that it was responsible for the FCC’s redirection, citing reassurances of FCC commissioners.

In the first quarter of 2004 — the time when the Super Bowl incident with Janet Jackson occurred — the FCC began counting complaints multiple times if the individual sent the complaint to more than one office within the FCC.

This change, which had the capability of increasing by a factor of 5 or 6 or 7 the number of complaints recorded, was noted in a footnote of that quarter’s FCC Quarterly Report. The footnote acknowledged that “[t]he reported counts may also include duplicate complaints or contacts…”

Thierer points out that upwards of 99 percent of the broadcast indecency complaints received by the FCC have come from campaigns generated by a single advocacy group. He further shows that those totals have been inflated by changes in methodology by the agency, changes not made to other complaints received on topics as disparate as cable rates and spectrum interference.

Though the “single advocacy group” is never mentioned in the article, the PFF report is up-front about the fact that the Parents Television Council is responsible for the “change in methodology” that has led to spurious complaint tallies.

And for the record — the FCC is required to evaluate complaints on quality, not quantity. In theory, the number of complaints received about a particular incident should be irrelevant. However, in practice, the tally matters a bit more. The FCC must gauge a broadcast against “contemporary community standards” in determining whether the indecency line has been crossed.

The PTC has a much easier time making its case for indecency fines when it looks like the whole community has been scandalized. The numbers — the inflated numbers — they matter….

Even though the letters behind those inflated numbers all say the same damn thing, verbatim.




Washington Post Examines Indecency Fines

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 14, 2005 @ 9:58 am
Filed under: FCC, Indecency

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, owing to a long-ish trip without web access. Last week, the Washington Post’s Frank Ahrens released a mini-study of the FCC’s historical approach to indecency fines.

Ahrens and a researcher combed through the FCC’s docket, organizing data pertaining to the Commission’s 92 proposed fines according to “date, FCC chairman, political party and so on.” His findings?

The clearest answer is: it takes the FCC a looong time from airdate to fine to decide if something is indecent.

Also, that the agency’s interest in indecency varies widely from chairman to chairman, based on their personal interest and political pressure they receive.

[…]

It’s not an easy road the FCC has to tread on indecency and most in the agency would rather not come anywhere near it. However, there is a law in place and the FCC is the appointed custodian of that law, so it’s appropriate to judge their performance on it.

(Text from an online chat Ahrens hosted after the publication of his article.)

« Moolah moolah »

Ahrens also addresses the amount of indecency fines. (Several bills are currently pending that would raise the maximum penalty from $32,500 to as much as $325,000.)

The size of the fines appears to have had little lasting deterrent value for giant media conglomerates that collect hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. For instance, just one year before the Stern broadcast with the Jamesons, Stern’s boss — Infinity Broadcasting Corp. — paid $1.7 million to settle multiple indecency rulings against the shock jock.

Part of the problem, the agency says, is that fines are too low — a maximum of $32,500. If broadcasters refuse to pay, the cases are turned over for enforcement to the Department of Justice, which has little incentive to pursue such small fines, members of Congress have said. Of four proposed fines turned over to the department, it collected two and refused to pursue two.

« First Amendment and the PTC »

No discussion of the FCC would be complete without a nod to the current fly in the indecency ointment — the Parents Television Council.

The FCC has struggled to balance First Amendment rights with laws that forbid over-the-air radio or television broadcasting between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. of “patently offensive” material of a sexual or excretory nature. The courts have not helped much, as the guiding 1978 indecency statute is increasingly irrelevant in an era of 200 unpoliced cable and satellite channels that do not fall under the law.

Some groups say the government should no longer monitor the nation’s airwaves because technology — such as the V-chip and cable and satellite blocking systems — allows parents to determine what their children watch.

“We’re hoping that regulators, lawmakers and the American public come to the same conclusion we have, that the system is broken,” said James Dyke, executive director of Television Watch, a coalition that includes most major television networks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, some politically conservative organizations and First Amendment academics. [And SpeakSpeak.]

“The first step is realizing that the system is outdated and can easily be hijacked by a very few, if not one individual,” he said.

Dyke’s reference is to the Parents Television Council, which flooded the FCC with complaints last year. Like the broadcasters, the PTC would prefer the government stay out of regulating content. “But because there is a law and the law seems to be very openly disregarded by the networks so frequently, our only recourse is to go to the congressionally mandated watchdog — the FCC,” said Tim Winter, a former NBC executive who is now the PTC’s executive director.

The PTC supports clearer guidelines about what is and is not indecent, Winter said. The FCC has maintained such guidelines would amount to prior restraint of free speech — a constitutional problem.

The Ahrens article is accompanied by an extraordinarily detailed spreadsheet listing facts about every fine imposed by the FCC between 1970 (when Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia said a few naughty words on the radio) to 2004 (when the Nipple Tax was handed down).




Video On Demand: A Way to Avoid FCC Fines?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 10, 2005 @ 7:39 am
Filed under: FCC, Cable/Satellite, Government, TV

From the Internet Movie Database:

In separate announcements, ABC said it would make some of its programming available on Apple’s iTunes store; CBS said it would place some of its on Comcast’s video-on-demand cable platform; and NBC said its programs will be accessible on the DirecTV satellite system (a corporate sibling of the Fox TV network).

[…]

Other analysts speculated that the move to video-on-demand will free the television networks from the former restrictions on content that have put them at a disadvantage against pay TV channels like HBO and Showtime. At the very least, analysts predicted, the networks will now be able to include additional scenes and unexpurgated language in their VOD offerings much like DVD producers now offer a package of “extras.” On the CNN website, a report about the new VOD deals noted that for the networks they “could be the first real opportunity to move away from almost complete dependency on advertising and toward subscriber revenue.”

It will be interesting to see if racier versions of broadcast TV shows are offered on-demand.

Broadcast TV (accessible with an antenna) is subject to FCC indecency fines; the content of cable, satellite, and the internet isn’t regulated by the FCC.




“Breasts Not Bombs” Arrest

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 9, 2005 @ 9:12 am
Filed under: Obscene!, FCC, Free Speech, Government

Two women were arrested Monday in Sacramento, California, at a Breasts Not Bombs protest at the state Capitol:

Sheryl Glaser, 45, and Renee Love, 40, of the group Breasts Not Bombs removed their shirts during the noon protest and were taken into custody by the California Highway Patrol.

They were arrested on suspicion of indecent exposure, disorderly conduct and violation of the terms of their protest permit.

Read more about what Breasts Not Bombs stands for.




Songs About the FCC

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 8, 2005 @ 6:33 am
Filed under: SpeakSpeak, FCC, Free Speech, TV

The Federal Communications Commission fines companies for broadcasting TV shows and radio shows which some people find offensive.

Follow the link below for a song about the FCC from Sunday night’s “Family Guy” cartoon, plus a song about the FCC which Monty Python’s Eric Idle did over a year ago.

FCC Songs

The slogan of SpeakSpeak is “Fighting indecency fines. Promoting free speech. Watching the media.”




Family Guy to FCC: Fine THIS!

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 7, 2005 @ 12:23 pm
Filed under: FCC, Free Speech

Last night’s episode of Fox’s “Family Guy,” as promised, gave a big ol’ nose-thumbing to the FCC.

The basic premise: Family Guy patriarch Peter Griffin becomes fed up with the Feds’ censoring of his favorite TV programs. (The Dick Van Dyke show had been renamed the Bleep Van Bleep Show, and the Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden threatened his wife with a decidedly dubbed “One of these days, Alice, I’m going to help the economy by buying an American car!”)

Peter Griffin decides to take matters into his own hands and starts his own television network.

Hilarity ensues, and so do discussions about how best to protect the nation’s kids. Peter’s wife Lois initially acts as a Bozell apologist, but eventually comes around to Peter’s viewpoint once the FCC begins to censor real life. (The FCC chairman literally holds a black bar up to Peter’s naughty bits as he steps out of the shower, FCC commissioners are present for — and regulating — the married couple’s makeout session, etc.)

Then there was some singing.

All in all, the show made some salient and important and biting points.

But in two weeks, no one will remember them.




“Family Guy” to Take on FCC

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 6, 2005 @ 8:39 pm
Filed under: FCC

Tonight’s episode of Fox’s animated series “Family Guy” will poke, prod, and pounce on the FCC’s war on indecency.

More later.




AT&T Is Big, But Supposedly It’s Not Big Enough

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 11:49 am
Filed under: FCC, Media Concentration

Huge corporations can merge and merge, says the FCC:

U.S. communications regulators Monday conditionally approved Verizon Communications’ (VZ) $8.6 billion purchase of MCI (MCIP) and SBC Communications’ (SBC) $16 billion acquisition of AT&T (T).

The Federal Communications Commission voted to clear the deals after days of intense negotiations to set conditions that include requiring Verizon and SBC to freeze rates for leasing some wholesale access to their networks for 30 months.

…They also agreed for two years to permit customers to surf anywhere they choose on the Internet and use any applications on it.

What a lousy deal for the public.

No ISPs should be allowed to stop adult costumers from surfing wherever they want. Now or two years from now.




Center for Creative Voices in the Media Details Cable’s Indie Squeeze-Out

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 25, 2005 @ 1:36 pm
Filed under: FCC, Cable/Satellite

Our buddies at the Center for Creative Voices in the Media have written a report — duly delivered to the FCC — on cable broadcasters’ efforts to stifle independent voices. The report, “Cable’s ‘Level Playing Field’: Not Level, No Field” includes the perspectives of cable granddaddies Ted Turner and Barry Diller.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, has publicly embarked on a corporate strategy to control to the greatest extent possible the content that it distributes through its cable, whether via cable television or the broadband Internet — a strategy that is diametrically opposed to laws and regulations requiring a “level playing field.” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts went even farther in a private meeting of venture capitalists, revealing that while Comcast had once allowed and encouraged independent entrepreneurs to create new channels and services, such as CNN, it would “not let that happen again.” As the nation’s largest providers of broadband access to the Internet, Comcast and other large cable operators also intend to discriminate against independent content on the Internet and provide their often captive broadband users with a “closed” proprietary Internet in which the companies, not the users themselves, control the sites the user can visit and the applications he/she can use.

Creative Voices calls upon the FCC to fulfill its statutory duty to establish and protect “level playing fields” in cable and on the Internet, via a combination of meaningful ownership limits and enforceable rules. In terms of cable, ownership limits must ensure that no one or two companies hold life or death power over the fate of cable networks and that independent networks have an equal opportunity for carriage. Enforceable rules must provide for non-discrimination in the way programming services are treated by cable MSOs.

In terms of the Internet, Net Neutrality — giving the user the freedom to choose the websites and applications he/she wishes, provided they are lawful and do not harm the network — must become more than an FCC policy goal; it must become an enforceable right.

We also call upon the Commission to not approve the takeover of Adelphia by Comcast and Time Warner Cable without imposing substantial and meaningful conditions that will also establish the “level playing field” that Congress intended and the law requires.

Ultimately, the power to determine what content consumers receive, whether it is delivered via cable TV or over the broadband Internet, must be much more in the hands of consumers themselves. They must have the freedom to access without regard to its ownership what content they wish to receive.

Amen, guys. Good luck.

The FCC is scheduled to debate mega-telecom mergers on Friday.




Hear Us. Now.

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 17, 2005 @ 12:05 pm
Filed under: Action, FCC, Media Watch

The good folks over at the Consumers Union continue to look out for us. This time, they’ve fired up a project dedicated ensuring that the FCC protect the public interest when it comes media consolidation.

The project, Hear Us Now, has published an animated musical detailing the evils of corporate radio, featuring the most excellent Austin Lounge Lizards.

If you’re like me, and you no longer listen to commercial radio (which, by the way, would never deign to play the Lounge Lizards), the cartoon will make your day.

Check out Hear Us Now. Watch the video. And more importantly, sign their petition to the FCC. It reads, in part:

Like most Americans, I rely on the media to find out about national and local issues. I want to feel confident that I can get all the viewpoints I need to make well-reasoned decisions about these issues, and expect the FCC to draft rules that encourage diversity of media voices and ownership…

As the Consumers Union and the Lizards say, “fight the power.”




A Court That Stands Up for Our Rights

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 16, 2005 @ 8:31 pm
Filed under: FCC, Free Speech, Government, Indecency, Courts

… or a court that lets the excecutive branch do whatever it wants to us?


The Right to Freedom of Speech

The FCC has been fining radio stations for airing “indecency” since the 1970s.

The most famous case involving “indecency” is FCC vs. Pacifica (1978). It involved a radio station that played a routine by comedian George Carlin, “Seven Dirty Words,” which included expletives.

Five Supreme Court justices (including Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion and is still on the court) ruled that the FCC can fine for a new class of speech: Speech that is indecent but not obscene.

Four Supreme Court justices wrote in dissent that there is no such thing as “indecency” as a separate legal category from “obscenity,” and therefore the FCC can’t fine for mere “indecency.”

Rights of the People in General

The issue of a court that protects our rights or that lets other branches of government take them away is the issue in a letter published in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The letter isn’t about free speech in particular, but the protection of our rights in general:

William Cooper (Op Ed, Oct. 9) undermines his own argument. He writes that the Constitution was “constructed mainly to limit the role of government in the lives of citizens,” and that a doctrine of a “living Constitution” subjects citizens’ rights to a “dictatorship of the court.”

He then applies this theory to Supreme Court jurisprudence on abortion. Specifically, the court “took away the rights of the states” to limit abortion based on a “so-called” privacy right. Another interpretation might be that the court limited government’s role in citizens’ lives by preventing interference in private matters.

A “living Constitution” may or may not be a good thing and may or may not be what the Founders envisioned. But if the court uses that doctrine to protect my fundamental right to be left alone by government, I don’t see how Cooper can call it “dictatorship.” A dictator might come into my home and school, telling me how and whom to worship. A dictator might try to control my wife’s body by telling her what she can and cannot do with it.

It would be a unique dictator indeed who expansively interpreted limits on government’s power and protections of citizens’ freedoms.

Ivan Ludmer, Minneapolis

The letter is in response to an op-ed by William A. Cooper, “a banker and a former chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.”

This Republican writes “There is no right of privacy in the Constitution. In fact, the word privacy is nowhere to be found in our Constitution. This so-called right was somehow divined out of our Constitution by a court interpreting contemporary standards into our Constitution, without the inconvenience of amending the Constitution.”




Martin Urges a la Carte Cable Programming, Consumer Choice

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 12, 2005 @ 9:03 am
Filed under: FCC, Media Watch, Indecency

Speaking at a conference of investors in North Carolina yesterday, Kevin Martin reiterated his support of “a la carte” cable programming.

Communications companies should give customers the power to avoid content they consider indecent, the industry’s chief regulator said Monday at Charlotte’s Westin Hotel.

New technology and flexible packaging, such as allowing people to choose the channels they receive, could help the industry relieve customer frustration, said Kevin Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

[…]

Martin, one of five FCC commissioners since 2001, has argued for harsher punishment of broadcast obscenities. On Monday, he emphasized instead that companies should help people avoid content they don’t want.

“We need to figure out improvements that allow for customers to have more control,” he said.

Advocates of a la carte programming (including the Parents Television Council) assert that allowing consumers to subscribe only to channels they want is a potential solution to indecency fines. Broadcasters and cable providers are, predictably, opposed to the idea, saying it will cost consumers more and worrying that their less popular stations will die in obscurity.

Martin neglected to mention the best consumer control tool of all — the remote control. Don’t like a program? Don’t watch it. Set rules for your kids. What could be simpler? Do we really need an act of Congress to solve this problem?

Anyway.

In other news, Martin also voiced his support for the relaxation of media ownership rules that prevent media conglomerates from owning both a newspaper and a television affiliate in any one city.

Martin favors easing a decades-old prohibition on a single company owning a television station and a newspaper in the same city. The FCC voted to change the rule in 2003, but the changes were gutted by a Federal court. Martin said the FCC would try again late this year or early next.

Media watchdogs quake at the thought of additional consolidation of an already quasi-monopolized business. In addition, our friends at The Center for Creative Voices in the Media have issued a report asserting that one of the causes of the current furor over indecency is ownership concentration that already exists. FCC commish Michael Copps has applauded that report.

So, Martin argues for reducing indecency, while exacerbating one of the suggested roots of the problem…?

Quoted text from the Charlotte Observer.




Jesse Jackson, Jr., Files Profanity Complaint Against William Bennett

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 10, 2005 @ 10:08 am
Filed under: FCC, Free Speech?

US Reps Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) have filed a complaint with the FCC against talking head William Bennett. On a recent radio show, Bennett made the hypothetical assertion that aborting black babies would reduce crime rates.

From Radio Ink:

The complaint alleges that Bennett’s comments are profane, and calls on the FCC to censure Bennett and his show’s parent company, Salem Radio Network.

Jackson said, “Many Americans were outraged last week at former Education Secretary Bill Bennett’s claim that aborting all black babies would result in a reduction in crime. Mr. Bennett’s comments were outrageous. They were offensive. They were indefensible.

“Let me be clear: I support free speech. However, I do not believe that our public airwaves should be contaminated by speech that incites fear and perpetuates hate.”

Bennett’s statement was offensive and indefensible. It was stupid and ignorant — even if he did mitigate them with a token “morally reprehensible.”

However, Bennett’s words should not be censured by the FCC. (Not to mention the fact that the statement doesn’t even come close to meeting the FCC’s standard of profanity, indecency, or obscenity.)

While I applaud the Jackson Two for calling Bennett on his perpetual dumbassness, I wish they’d go about it another way. How about organizing a boycott of Bennett’s radio affiliates? How about insisting he apologize? How about forcing him to donate his gambling rake to the NAACP or United Negro College Fund?

Do something, but keep government censorship out of it.