February 1, 2000

Congressional Leaders asked to challenge FCC policy that ‘hamstrings’ indecency law enforcement

NEWS RELEASE from MORALITY IN MEDIA, Inc.

NEW YORK (1 February 2000) — Morality in Media is asking two Congressional subcommittees with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission to challenge an FCC policy that MIM President Robert Peters says “virtually ensures that there will be little or no enforcement of the Broadcast Indecency Law [18 USC 1464] against violations by TV stations.”

Mr. Peters explains the difficulty this way:

“On its Internet web site, the FCC says it ‘will act on all documented complaints’ of indecent broadcasting it receives. But the site also says that citizens who file indecency complaints ‘should’ supply a tape or transcript of the program (or of significant excerpts); and, for all practical purposes, the word ‘should’ means ‘must’ — because, in practice, indecency complaints without a tape or transcript are routinely dismissed.”Since viewers seldom have prior warning of indecent TV programming and are, therefore, unable to set up a videocassette recorder in advance to copy the broadcast, what we have is an FCC policy that hamstrings enforcement of the indecency law.”

As part of “Turn Off TV Day,” on February 14 (Valentine’s Day 2000), Morality in Media is urging the Senate Subcommittee on Communications and House Subcommittee on Telecommunications to challenge the FCC failure to enforce the broadcast indecency law against TV stations and, if needed, to introduce legislation. MIM is asking viewers fed up with TV indecency to write the chairmen and ranking members of these subcommittees — Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC) in the Senate, and W.A. Tauzin (R-LA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) in the House. A sample letter is available on MIM’s web site (www.moralityinmedia.org).

Mr. Peters had the following additional comments:

“No one expects the FCC to investigate every indecency complaint. Many complaints lack necessary information or describe programming that is clearly not ‘indecent’ under the law. But to refuse to investigate all complaints unaccompanied by a tape or transcript is arbitrary and does not fulfill the Commission’s responsibility to ‘execute and enforce’ the provisions of the Communications Act.”When the complainant in the 1978 FCC v. Pacifica case heard the radio broadcast of the ‘Seven Dirty Words’ monologue, he was riding in a car with his son — without a tape recorder. In response to his written complaint, the FCC purchased a copy of the record album and later held the station liable.

“The FCC also has subpoena power which, in appropriate cases, extends to both licensees and program producers.

“The FCC can also monitor TV programming. But while the FCC has monitored programs to protect children from too many ads, it refuses to monitor programs to protect children from indecency, even when news reports indicate that a program includes gross vulgarity or explicit sex talk, foreplay and/or nudity.

“During the last thirty years, standards of decency on broadcast TV have plummeted. Most of the blame falls on the TV networks, for pursuing high ratings with little sense of their responsibility to serve the public interest.

“But the FCC is also to blame, for failing to fulfill its statutory responsibility to enforce the broadcast indecency law.

“On behalf of America’s children and the majority of adults who do not choose to be assaulted in the privacy of their homes by broadcast indecency, Congress should challenge the FCC failure to enforce the indecency law — before the precipitous decline in decency standards becomes a total collapse.”

MORALITY IN MEDIA is a national interfaith organization based in New York City, working to curb illegal traffic in pornography and to uphold standards of decency in the media.

Author: MIM   02/01/2000

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