Filth on TV? Blame FCC, Group Says

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Instead of fulfilling its congressional mandate to enforce broadcast indecency laws, the Federal Communications Commission is "refusing to use the tools it has to enforce the law" and is placing the burden on viewers instead, according to the group Morality in Media.

Morality in Media, with the support of a dozen other family-oriented groups, Tuesday filed a 19-page document accusing the FCC of not keeping faith with the American public to protect them from "this evil" of vulgarity and sex on television - even on shows aired during the so-called family hour.

Specifically, Morality in Media (MIM) accuses the FCC of forcing the public to do the job that Congress assigned the FCC to do.

At the heart of the argument is this fact: The FCC requires indecency complaints filed by citizens to be accompanied by a tape or transcript of the allegedly indecent TV show.

But, says Morality in Media, "Very few viewers who make complaints are in a position to submit a tape or transcript of the program, because most viewers are surprised by the assault and are not taping the program... This [requirement] is an unreasonable burden" on the public, says MIM.

MIM accuses the FCC of setting up "impediments" that prevent it from carrying out its duty, including the FCC's failure to request tapes or transcripts of possibly indecent programming from its licensees; refusing to use its subpoena power, if necessary, to get tapes of offending programs; refusing to initiate its own indecency inquiries; refusing to monitor programs that citizens complain about; and refusing to require licensees to make tapes of possibly indecent programming.

"These impediments must be abandoned if the FCC is to fulfill its statutory responsibility to enforce the indecency law," said the Morality in Media document. MIM says too many "violators of the indecency law" are getting away with it because the FCC makes it so difficult for complaints to move forward.

MIM argues that "Government has a compelling interest in protecting adults in the privacy of their homes -- and children -- from indecent broadcast TV programming. It is the FCC's job, not that of viewers and parents, to enforce the indecency law."

MIM blames "the precipitous decline" of decency standards on TV for cheapening the quality of life for all Americans. The group insists the so-called "V-chip" - which is supposed to filter out objectionable programming - is no substitute for government enforcement of the broadcast industry law.

The Morality in Media document falls under the heading of public comment. The FCC invited public comment as part of its review into "the public interest obligations of broadcasters in the new era of digital television."

On the other side of the story, broadcasters say television viewing is a voluntary activity that can be stopped at the push of a button. They say it's the responsibility of parents to monitor what - if anything - their children watch on television, and they note that definitions of "indecency" vary among individuals. What one viewer considers indecent another viewer might not consider indecent or even objectionable.

Other media watchdog groups advocate persuasion at the consumer level rather than enforcement at the government level. The Parent's Television Council (the PTC is part of the Media Research Center, as is targets what it considers objectionable programming by working with advertisers -- keeping them abreast of TV trends to watch and what specific shows may cross the line.

The PTC operates on the assumption that losing a sponsor can be a powerful motivator for a TV program to clean up its act.