More than half of U.S. adults believe FCC doing a poor job of maintaining community standards of decency on broadcast TV

NCOSE Press Statement logo

NEW YORK (April 25, 2005) – More than half (53%) of adult Americans say the Federal Communications Commission is doing a “poor job” of maintaining community standards of decency on broadcast TV, particularly during the evening hours from 8 pm to 10 pm, according to a new poll conducted by Harris Interactive for Morality in Media. More than twice as many adult Americans believe the FCC is doing a “very poor” job (33%) versus a “very good” job (15%).

Here is the question and total results:

  • “The Federal Communications Commission has a rule that prohibits indecency on broadcast TV between 6 o’clock in the morning and 10 o’clock at night. They define ‘indecency’ as any content, which depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner when measured by contemporary community standards.

    “In your opinion, is the FCC doing a good job or a poor job of maintaining community standards of decency on broadcast TV, particularly during the evening hours from 8 PM to 10 PM?”

    • 41% Total good job
    • 53% Total poor job
    • 15% Very good job
    • 26% Somewhat good job
    • 3% Neither (volunteered)
    • 33% Very poor job
    • 20% Somewhat poor job
    • 3% Don’t Know / Refused (volunteered)

The Harris Interactive national telephone poll of 1,001 Americans ages 18 and over was conducted from April 1st through 4th, 2005 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Robert W. Peters, President of Morality in Media, commented:

The poll results are a representation by the respondents of America’s community
standards of decency and another indication the FCC is not fulfilling its statutory
responsibility to curb indecency on broadcast TV. A majority of adults think the FCC
is doing a poor job of maintaining standards of decency on broadcast TV; and,
presumably, the 3% of adults who think the FCC is doing neither a good nor bad
job and the 26% of adults who think the FCC is doing a “somewhat good job” both
see room for improvement.

Last year, for the first time in the history of broadcasting, the FCC fined a TV
network for airing indecent programming. In fact, the Commission fined two
networks and determined that a third had violated the law. This much-publicized
enforcement may explain why some Americans now think the FCC is doing a ‘good

But this year, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is again routinely denying indecency
complaints about network TV programs and promotions, including a locker room
sex seduction scene that introduced a Monday Night Football game. Undoubtedly,
some (perhaps many) complaints were properly denied, but opinion polls and other
expressions of public concern indicate that there is a ‘disconnect’ between what the
public thinks is indecent and what the Bureau thinks.

Part of the problem is that the Bureau is applying more of a public lewdness than
a ‘public indecency’ standard. As the Supreme Court noted in its 1978 FCC v.
 decision, the “normal definition of ‘indecent’ merely refers to
nonconformance with accepted standards of morality.”  In contrast, Webster’s
Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary
 (Random House 1996) defines “lewd” to
mean “inclined to, characterized by, or inciting to lust or lechery; lascivious”.

According to a Pew Research Center survey (4/19/05), 75% of adults favored “stricter government enforcement of decency rules when children are more likely to be watching TV.” According to a Timemagazine poll (3/28/05), 53% of adult Americans said that in controlling the amount of sex and violence on television, “the government should be more strict.” According to a First Amendment Center survey (6/29/04), 65% of adults thought, “government should have the power to regulate during the morning, afternoon and early evening hours those broadcast television programs that contain references to sexual activity.” According to a poll conducted for Morality in Media by Wirthlin Worldwide in February 1998, 59% of adult Americans thought the FCC needed to “work harder” to enforce the broadcast indecency law; only 28% thought a rating system and V-Chip combination would be an effective alternative.


MORALITY IN MEDIA is a nonprofit national organization, with headquarters in New York City, which works to curb traffic in obscenity and to uphold standards of decency in the media. MIM operates the Web site – where citizens can report possible violations of federal Internet obscenity laws to Federal prosecutors – and the National Obscenity Law Center, a legal resource for prosecutors, legislators and others. Author: MIM   04/25/2005

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