- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

Janet Angelora steels herself every time she opens her e-mail in-box.

The Fort Myers, Fla., letter carrier never knows when she is going to receive an “e-alert” from the Parents Television Council, a national advocacy group that works to rid the airwaves of material it deems indecent.

The alerts increasingly carry headlines that make Mrs. Angelora — one of the council’s 860,000 members — cringe.

“Graphic Depiction of Male Rape on The Shield. Take Action Now!”

“File a Complaint with the FCC about Sex-filled episode of ‘That ‘70s Show.’ ”

“CBS’s ‘Without a Trace’ features scenes of teen group sex during prime time — FILE YOUR COMPLAINT NOW.”

“I read this stuff and I’m just floored. I think to myself, ‘They’re absolutely right. This is indecent,’ ” said Mrs. Angelora, a wife and the mother of a 14-year-old boy who is permitted to watch “Joan of Arcadia,” “7th Heaven,” “American Idol” and a few other shows.

The alerts have transformed Mrs. Angelora and others into warriors in the battle for the airwaves. They also have helped the Parents Television Council become the leading force in the crusade against indecency.

Each alert features a detailed transcript from the program in question. But, more importantly, the alert contains a link to an online form that people can use to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which is responsible for regulating the content on broadcast TV and radio.The online forms have made filing a complaint with the FCC as easy as clicking a button. Since the Parents Television Council began promoting the online forms in 2002, the number of complaints has soared.

The FCC received 111 complaints about 101 TV and radio shows in 2000. The following year, it received 346 complaints about 152 programs.

In 2002, 13,922 complaints about 345 shows poured into the FCC’s office. All but 388 of those complaints focused on four programs, including one of the Parents Television Council’s top targets that year, a Victoria’s Secret lingerie fashion show on CBS.

Last year, the FCC received 240,350 complaints about 318 programs. All but 513 of those complaints focused on nine shows, including episodes of Fox’s “Keen Eddie” and NBC’s “Coupling” that the Parents Television Council targeted.

According to its most recent statistics, the FCC received 530,885 complaints about 23 shows between the beginning of January and the end of February this year. All but 57 of those complaints focused on CBS’ Super Bowl halftime show, when Justin Timberlake removed a part of Janet Jackson’s top and briefly exposed her breast to millions of viewers.

FCC Chairman Michael L. Powell told a National Association of Broadcasters convention in April that he had little choice to but to respond to people who “spam” him with complaints.

The remark offended L. Brent Bozell III, a longtime conservative commentator who founded the Parents Television Council in 1995 and continues to serve as its president.

“That was a kick in the teeth. … Spam doesn’t pay paychecks. People do. Our members pay Mr. Powell’s paycheck,” Mr. Bozell said.

The FCC’s rules prohibit broadcasters from airing material containing sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to tune in. The rules apply only to over-the-air radio and television stations, not their cable and satellite counterparts.

Even without the Parents Television Council’s organized efforts, individuals still hold a lot of influence at the FCC, which depends on listener complaints.

John B. Thompson, a Florida lawyer, has led a 15-year campaign against Howard Stern, triggering thousands of dollars in FCC fines against stations that air his radio program. Chicago activist David Smith has filed more than 70 complaints against disc jockey Erich “Mancow” Muller since 1999, resulting in $42,000 in fines, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Still, more people are becoming involved with the Parents Television Council. The organization now operates 28 chapters across the United States, up from 10 chapters about a year ago.

The council is based in Los Angeles, although much of its work is done at a satellite office in Alexandria, where Mr. Bozell works. It shares the space with other groups Mr. Bozell runs, including the Media Research Center, which says the press has a liberal bias.

A Parents Television Council spokeswoman was unable to provide the group’s annual budget, but she said it is funded primarily through donations from its members, who are not required to pay dues.

The council employs six analysts at its Alexandria office who monitor tapes of the previous evening’s television lineup. Each analyst is assigned a broadcast network and some of the more popular programs on basic cable networks such as FX, MTV and Univision.

When an analyst sees something in a program that raises a red flag, he provides a supervisor with a transcript. If the material is deemed inappropriate, the council alerts its members through an e-mail and urges them to complain to the FCC.

“I don’t have kids, but I approach it as, ‘What would a parent want to know about this show?’” said Aubree Rankin, an analyst assigned to monitor CBS and several MTV shows, including “The Osbornes” and “The Real World.”

Since the outrage over the Super Bowl halftime show, the FCC has gotten tougher on broadcasters, issuing a wave of fines, primarily against so-called shock jocks such as Mr. Stern.

The incident also intensified efforts on Capitol Hill to crack down on indecency. The House passed a bill in the winter that dramatically raises the maximum amount the FCC can fine broadcasters for violating indecency standards, although the legislation has stalled in the Senate.

Critics say the Parents Television Council has become too powerful, charging the organization with pushing an agenda that threatens the First Amendment.

“They are the squeaky wheel,” said Robert Corn-Revere, a lawyer who represents a group of media conglomerates, activists and performers.

In the long run, the council’s work will prove negligible, Mr. Corn-Revere said. “Legally, I don’t think they’ve had any impact. Ultimately, this issue is going to be decided in the court, not the FCC.”

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