December 1, 2005

FCC Pipeline Chock Full of, Well, Stuff that Fills Pipelines

Tuesday August 30th 2005, 11:10 am
Filed under: FCC

A report in today promises a busy future for us FCC watchers.

As the Penny Nance era gets rolling, the FCC will likely act soon on a bevy of backlogged indecency complaints. Senate staffers have been meeting with activists and industry reps to discuss regulation of cable and satellite TV. Freshman Chairman Kevin Martin has been meeting with conservative activists to “assure them of his commitment to change the television landscape.”

With Martin at the helm and Nance as a quasi-figurehead, it seems as if the FCC will focus not only on whether broadcasters have violated indecency rules, but on what indecency actually is, and how far broadcasters (and the government) should go to “protect” us from it.

Here’s Salon:

Under the current rules, material is indecent if it is “offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.” But standards vary widely from community to community, household to household. Family Research Council legal director Patrick A. Trueman said he recently traveled to a Marriott Hotel in Houston, where he said three separate cable stations — not pay-per-view stations — were showing “hardcore pornography,” which he described as “sex acts.” He demanded that the hotel staff come disable the channels. The staff told him one of the stations was Showtime. “I don’t have cable just for this reason,” said Trueman, who previously worked on obscenity cases in the Justice Department. “If I had cable, I would not want my children viewing that.” [emphasis mine — A.T.]

If the activists have their way, Trueman’s children will not be the only Americans barred from watching sex — explicit or implied — on television. For now, they have the political winds at their backs, and a sympathetic captain at the helm of the FCC. Before taking his current job, Martin served as a lawyer for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign and later as a White House aide. His wife, Catherine J. Martin, worked for Vice President Cheney until recently, when she took another job in the White House to work for the president on policy and planning issues.

There is little doubt that Martin knows the political stakes of the coming fight. In 2003, he shared his concerns over indecency in a letter to the Parents Television Council, a group that has called for a boycott of shows like the WB’s “Everwood” because it features adults who encourage teenage characters to use birth control and, in one case, have an abortion. “Certainly broadcasters and cable operators have significant First Amendment rights, but these rights are not without boundaries,” Martin wrote to the group. “They are limited by law. They also should be limited by good taste.”

I said it yesterday. I’ll say it again: When did enforcing “good taste” become the aegis of the federal government? When did it become the role of the government — and of individual government employees — to define good taste?

And when are people like us going to stand up against the likes of a government who tries to mold us in its own cultural image, simply because it believes it has sufficient “political capital”?

Most importantly, what are you willing to do about it?

Think about it. We’ll be calling on you shortly.

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For the record, pending complaints filed by the PTC include

  • The Who’s F-bomb during ABC’s Live 8 broadcast
  • CSI’s “King Baby” infantilism episode
  • An episode of CBS’ “Without a Trace” that featured a “teen orgy”
  • A complaint against ABC’s canceled “Life as We Know It”
  • An F-bomb complaint against CBS’ “Big Brother”
  • A whole slew of complaints against NBC’s short lived cartoon “Father of the Pride”
  • An apparently offensive, sex-filled episode of “That 70s Show”
  • and a whole list of complaints against cable programming on MTV, F/X, and other channels (which thus far remain outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction)

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