Now that FCC chair Michael Powell is the lamest of ducks, questions about the future of the FCC’s indecency enforcement abound. Powell has mentioned that acting as the potty-mouth police made him uncomfortable.
In the past, he decried the knee-jerk activism of the Parents Television Council’s members: “You’ll get an advocacy group that purports to speak for a huge audience – I don’t know how many members they have – and they will have their members write you, and their members have heard what that association tells them is the problem, and you’ll get a lot of postcards or you’ll get a lot of e-mails.”
Powell acted as if the indecency firestorm was brought on by a single boob flash and was the brainchild of organized advocacy groups.
Well, he’s right about that.
But what no one has brought to light is that the Parents Television Council started this movement with the support and at the urging of FCC commissioners.
Here’s an excerpt from a letter that (Democratic) Commissioner Michael Copps sent to PTC prez Brent Bozell in 2003, well before The Nipple made its appearance:
“I am, as you know, tremendously pleased with the work that you, the Parents Television Council and the other organizations that have joined with you, are doing in America’s battle against indecency on the public airwaves…. I look forward to continuing to work with you on all this, convinced as I am that the moment is at hand when the people’s righteous anger can be turned into a righteous policy against those who so flagrantly misuse their trust as stewards of the public airwaves.” (Commissioner Michael Copps, 2003)
And Martin, who has received the PTC’s fawning endorsement for the chairmanship, has been quite a friend to the PTC himself. During a speech to the National Association of Television Programming Executives in 2003 (also pre-nipple), Martin advocated using the FCC’s “bully pulpit” to persuade broadcasters to “re-think their approach to family-friendly programming.”
Martin is also fond of citing PTC “research,” and once did so in front of a Senate committee hearing on protecting children from bad TV. Martin is an advocate for “per-utterance” fines against broadcasters. He supports legislation that would create a tenfold increase the maximum indecency fine per incident.
Martin has downplayed notion of parental responsibility, stating that the FCC “plays an important role in protecting Americans, particularly children, from indecent programming.” And what about the V-chip, which is installed on every US television manufactured after 2000 and was mandated in order to help parents baby-sit their kids? No good, he says. “Few parents know about these technologies, and of those that do, fewer still can figure out how to make them work.”
Martin heads the short list for Powell’s replacement. A good friend of the administration, his current status as commissioner would make him exempt from Senate confirmation.
The FCC helped start this battle. Two of its commissioners actively encouraged Brent Bozell to pursue indecency complaints, while the outgoing chairman summed up the PTC’s efforts as “spam.”
But as public opinion segues from dropped-jaw nipple-rage to a collective eye-roll over a pixilated cartoon baby butt, and as the leadership of the FCC changes, we ponder the future.
Where do we go from here?
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