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February 7, 2004
Column #1,171

Time for FCC To End Indecency

     The Federal Communications Commission is supposed to regulate radio and TV broadcast quality on behalf of Americans who legally own the air through which signals are sent. But the FCC has imposed only two fines for indecent TV broadcasts in 50 years, one of which was last month. It can also yank broadcast licenses, but has rarely, if ever done so.

     FCC defines indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities."

     Does the FCC watch television? Has it not seen nudity on NYPD Blue? How about the Keen Eddie show on Fox involving sexual contact between a prostitute and a horse?

     When the rock star Bono said something was " f-g brilliant" on the Golden Globe Awards, thousands of complaints bombarded the FCC, fueled by the American Family Association (AFA) and the Parents' Television Council, who have more than a million members.

     FCC's Enforcement Bureau ignored them, saying that the phrase by Bono did not constitute "indecency" because the word was used "as an adjective or expletive" and was not "a description of sexual or excretory activity."

     Morality In Media President Bob Peters reacted, "This is not an error in judgment This is a complete breakdown of moral sanity."

     The first ray of hope came Jan. 14 when FCC Chairman Michael Powell asked the other four Commissioners to overturn that Enforcement Bureau's decision. The next day, Powell, who is the son of the Secretary of State, said he has "already started talking to lawmakers about `drastically increasing - by at least ten-fold' the penalties that can be levied on radio and TV broadcasters that air obscene and indecent material."

     The current maximum penalty is $27,500 and has not been increased for decades.

     Then came the Super Bowl half-time show that was climaxed by Justin Timberlake's ripping off the bodice of Janet Jackson outfit to expose her breast. On Monday Powell was an Old Testament prophet: "I am outraged at what I saw...Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television set for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better."

     His unhappiness went beyond Jackson's exposure which he felt "wasn't the most offensive part. It was the finale of something that was offensive. The whole performance was on stage copulation. This really crossed a heinous line."

     Powell promised a "thorough and swift" investigation. However, even if the network were fined $27,500, CBS earned $140 million for the Super Bowl Show alone. All 200 CBS stations should also be fined $27,500.

      Given Powell's reaction, AFA President Don Wildmon told me, "I think this has helped the cause. It has aroused the public. By Tuesday, 34,000 people came to our website to file a formal complaint with the FCC, and sent a sealed letter." The Parents' Television Council registered 22,000 by Wednesday.

     Officials at MTV which produced the show said the breast incident was "unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional."

     What nonsense. Miss Jackson's choreographer guaranteed "shocking moments" four days before the event. A day afterwards, MTV archly referred to Miss Jackson's breast as a "surprise guest." CBS said it "deeply regrets the incident." But CBS and MTV are owned by the same company, Viacom. Clearly, both were involved for months in planning the show, picking the performers and overseeing the production.

     A group of pro-family groups such as AFA, Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, has decided to target MTV itself, which routinely uses sex to sell music videos.

     Second, why not demand that all nudity stop on network TV? ER has shown a girl who brings her grandmother to the hospital with a heart attack. The camera records her exam in which her breasts were exposed. NBC planned to rebroadcast that episode this week.

     Third, they should demand that Congress give FCC similar oversight of Cable TV which is now lacking, a major loophole.

     I also applaud Morality in Media's call to "Turn Off the TV" on Valentine's Day: "Do something that builds family love, brings blessing or improves your own life. Give the Cook a night off - have dinner at a restaurant. Have friends over. Play board games."

     Finally, see AFA's and, to add your voice to the FCC against indecency

     Remember WE the people own the air.

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