[FoRK] Anti-Indecency Forces Opposed

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Fri Mar 25 20:15:40 PST 2005


Anti-Indecency Forces Opposed

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page D12

The push to crack down harder on radio and television indecency, which 
rose to national attention with Janet Jackson's brief exposure during 
the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, is beginning to stir pockets of 

Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) has introduced a bill that would prevent 
the Federal Communications Commission, which polices over-the-air radio 
and television broadcasts, from extending its authority to cable and 
satellite channels.

At the same time, a California woman has launched a Web site, 
www.speakspeak.org, meant to counter what she calls the excessive 
influence of anti-indecency groups, such as the Parents Television 
Council (PTC), that flood the government with complaints designed to 
spur fines against radio and television broadcasters.

Sanders said his bill is meant to head off possible legislation 
discussed by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that would give the FCC the 
power to fine channels such as HBO and companies such as XM Satellite 
Radio Inc. if they air offensive content.

"It's a very dangerous trend," Sanders said in an interview yesterday. 
"I've talked to people in the industry and they say it means programs 
like 'The Sopranos' and 'Sex and the City' and similar-type programs 
will either be rewritten or taken off the air or pushed into late night."

Stevens is honeymooning and unavailable for comment. He plans to address 
cable executives at the industry's annual trade show in San Francisco 
early next month, according to Commerce Committee spokeswoman Melanie 
Alvord. He is hoping the threat of legislation will persuade cable 
providers to give viewers the option of not subscribing to channels they 
deem offensive. Companies might do this by offering a greater variety of 
subscription packages or by setting up an a la carte system that allows 
people to pay for only the channels they want to watch.

The cable industry has resisted such changes, saying customers easily 
can block unwanted channels from appearing in the home.

Sanders argued against Rep. Fred Upton's (R-Mich.) bill to raise the 
maximum FCC indecency fine on broadcasters from $32,500 to $500,000, 
which passed 389 to 38 last month, saying such a measure would further 
chill free speech. The bill also would allow the FCC to fine 
entertainers up to $500,000 for intentionally performing indecent 
material and require the FCC to act on complaints within 180 days of 
their filing.

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate in January by Sens. Joseph 
I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that would raise the 
maximum indecency fine to $325,000. Sponsors in both houses say 
indecency fines need to be raised as an effective deterrent. Existing 
fine amounts, lawmakers and FCC commissioners say, are easily paid by 
the nation's multibillion-dollar entertainment giants.

Amanda Toering, an editor at the University of California at Davis and 
former researcher in the Texas legislature, said she was incensed in 
November when she read that several ABC affiliate stations were dropping 
plans to air a Veterans Day broadcast of "Saving Private Ryan," worried 
that the film's graphic violence and profanity would bring an FCC fine. 
(The FCC later said the broadcast would not have violated indecency 

After researching the escalating indecency debate, Toering decided that 
the Parents Television Council was dominating the conversation. She said 
the FCC needs to know that many Americans do not agree with the PTC's 
indecency complaints, which have targeted shows such as NBC's "Friends," 
Fox's "King of the Hill" and ABC's "NYPD Blue."

Her site went up in January, and its first major action came a month 
later, following a PTC complaint to the FCC about an episode of the 
often-graphic CBS crime drama "CSI." SpeakSpeak countered the PTC's 
objections to the episode, arguing why the show was not indecent. PTC 
sent in about 12,000 complaints; SpeakSpeak generated about 1,000, 
Toering said in an interview yesterday.

"Our mission is to help the FCC interpret the contemporary community 
standards that factor in their decisions" on indecency complaints, 
Toering said. "Until us, the only community they heard from was the PTC."

swilliams at hpti.com http://www.hpti.com Per: sdw at lig.net http://sdw.st
Stephen D. Williams 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 20147-4622 AIM: sdw

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