12/07/2004: Criminally Absurd
Activists Dominate Content Complaints
In an appearance before Congress in February, when the controversy over Janet Jackson's Super Bowl moment was at its height, Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell laid some startling statistics on U.S. senators.
The number of indecency complaints had soared dramatically to more than 240,000 in the previous year, Powell said. The figure was up from roughly 14,000 in 2002, and from fewer than 350 in each of the two previous years. There was, Powell said, "a dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes."
What Powell did not reveal-apparently because he was unaware-was the source of the complaints. According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003-99.8 percent-were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group.
This year, the trend has continued, and perhaps intensified.
Through early October, 99.9 percent of indecency complaints-aside from those concerning the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl halftime show broadcast on CBS- were brought by the PTC, according to the FCC analysis dated Oct. 1. (The agency last week estimated it had received 1,068,767 complaints about broadcast indecency so far this year; the Super Bowl broadcast accounted for over 540,000, according to commissioners' statements.)
The prominent role played by the PTC has raised concerns among critics of the FCC's crackdown on indecency. "It means that really a tiny minority with a very focused political agenda is trying to censor American television and radio," said Jonathan Rintels, president and executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, an artists' advocacy group.