Tuesday, October 17, 2006

America's Airwaves Held Hostage By A Few Thousand Fanatics

Viacoom head Sumner Redstone held forth on the FCC's crackdown on speech it considers indecent with a stinging rebuke. It's the latest sign that major media companies aren't going to roll over anymore to onerous fines, vague threats and intimidation.
"Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a world where, increasingly and alarmingly, a couple thousand form complaints from people condemning shows that they have never watched can result in an indecency fine 10 times higher than an year ago," he said, according to a copy of his remarks provided by Viacom. "In a world where these same form complaints can lead regulators to dictate business models that ultimately do more harm than good. And yes, in a world where entertainment and news executives, musicians and artists are living in a great deal of fear."
According to the article, the FCC itself admits that the lion's share of complaints come from the members of two groups: the Parents Television Association and the Family Research Council. In other words, they tell their members to send off a form letter to the FCC, the FCC takes that as a sign of indecency and fines the networks for sums that have increased tremendously. It's idiotic. Politicians know to take form letters with a grain of salt, especially when they come from people outside their districts. And someone who dashes off a letter to their Senator or Congressman every week ultimately gets tuned out: politicians know they're just fringe people with too much time on their hands and don't reflect voters in general, whatever their stance might be. They're just "activists." Why can't the FCC do the same? Not only are the "complaints" coming from two activist political groups, they're probably being sent by the same darn people. Does that really reflect the public's outrage over a particular episode of a TV show? No. It reflects a fringe group's activism. The same would be true if the FCC jumped every time the ACLU generated form letters about FOX News. I've always said that unless a TV show generates a response equal to one percent of its audience, the FCC shouldn't even be able to begin an investigation. That means if 12 million people watched a TV show, unless 120,000 complaints were lodged,the FCC should assume the show was acceptable to the public at large. (The Janet Jackson incident, for example, spawned hundreds of thousands of complaints and would have qualified for an investigation.) When 99% of viewers aren't offended, why would the FCC get involved?

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