- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Federal Communications Commission received about half as many complaints about indecency on television and radio during the first three months of the year as it did during the last quarter of 2004.

The data, included in a report the agency published this month, suggests broadcasters are being more careful about what they air, according to officials with the Parents Television Council (PTC), the conservative group that has crusaded against racy programs.

But the head of a group that opposes stricter industry regulation said the numbers have another meaning: Anti-indecency forces don’t feel as compelled to complain to the FCC because they have tightened their grip on the agency’s leadership.

“The groups that have been pushing this issue have more control over the FCC than they used to. They don’t need to generate as many complaints,” said Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, an advocacy group the entertainment industry helps fund.

The number of complaints to the FCC about indecency and obscenity dropped from 317,833 during the final three months of 2004 to 157,650 during the first quarter of this year, according to the agency’s report.

FCC officials declined to comment on the findings, part of a routine report the agency publishes every few months.

The number of complaints during the first three months of 2005 is down dramatically from the similar period in 2004, when 693,080 complaints were filed. Complaints spiked during this period after one of singer Janet Jackson’s breasts was briefly exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show in February 2004.

“Broadcasters are being a lot more careful these days, particularly with their live programming,” said Melissa Caldwell, the PTC’s director of research and publications.

The FCC has not issued an indecency fine since Dec. 22, the longest lull in four years. This quiet period follows a busy 2004, when the agency proposed 12 fines worth $3.7 million.

The slowdown has disappointed some of the conservative activists who cheered President Bush in March when he promoted FCC Commissioner Kevin J. Martin, a consistent indecency critic, to chairman of the five-person panel that oversees the agency.

Mr. Martin succeeded fellow Republican Michael K. Powell, who has said he was uncomfortable waging war over what is indecent.

Activists predict Mr. Martin will pick up the fight against indecency once the president fills the two remaining Republican slots on the FCC.

The activists were heartened in July when Mr. Martin hired one of their own — Penny Young Nance, formerly an official with the religious group Concerned Women for America — as a special adviser.

Most of the complaints to the FCC are form letters prepared by the PTC, Mr. Dyke said. He cited an investigation into complaints about the Fox show “Married by America” that generated a $1.2 million fine last year.

Internet blogger Jeff Jarvis found the agency had received 90 complaints about that show written by 23 persons. All but two of those 23 persons used identical form letters issued by the PTC, meaning the actual number of distinct complaints about “Married by America” was three.

“It takes a jury of 12 people to sit in on a trial, but it only takes three complaints to condemn a TV show,” Mr. Dyke said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

Federal law prohibits over-the-air TV and radio stations from airing references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

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