Monday, December 13, 2004

Indecency on TV? 99.8% of complaints to FCC come from one group.

Updated: See below
We all know that the FCC has it's knickers in a bunch over so called indecency on TV. Janet Jackson got her tit in a wringer after that appendage popped out in the infamous "wardrobe malfunction". We all heard how awful the ad was that showed the back of a naked white woman jumping into the arms of a black football player, and there was the string of TV stations who for the first time in three years opted out of showing the movie "Saving Private Ryan" on Veterans' Day because it portrayed soldiers cursing (who woulda thought?)

The FCC has cited "thousands" of complaints in it's crackdown on unbridled breasts and potty mouthed soldiers (Hey, I muttered the "f-word" a few times myself when we came under fire in Vietnam).

What most of us don't realise though is that nearly 99% of those thousands of complaints come from one, yes, one conservative organization. San Francisco Chronicle TV critic Tim Goodman spells out how, once that group, the Parents Television Council, discovered the internet, the number of complaints shot up from about 350 a year in 2000 and 2001 to some 240,000 complaints in 2003. According to Mediaweek of all the "indecency complaints" to the Federal Communications Commission in 2003, a startling 99.8 percent of them came from that one conservative group, the Parents Television Council. 240 000 x (99.8%) = 239,520. subtract the PTC complaints and the number of complaints in 2003 drops from 240,000 to 480.

If you are tired of a tiny non-elected, non-representative bunch of prudes setting the standards for what all the rest of us can see and hear over the public airwaves, perhaps it is time to contact the FCC yourself. The Parents Televison Council has a nice form on their website that I suppose you could use, or better yet, go directly to FCC site and use the email form there.

Update:
I got into a discussion on this subject with a co-worker a little while ago, and we ended up talking about a point that I forgot to make in the above essay. Apparently many of the complaints mentioned above are coming from folks who never viewed the original "offensive" material. This is indicated by something which at first puzzled observers. They had noticed that most complaints prior to the huge uptick since the Parents Television Council interjected intself into the subject came immediately after whatever televised event it was that sparked the complaints. Lately though there has been a 2 to 3 day window between the time something airs and the time the complaints start flooding in. Looking into this, observers found that the complaints didn't start getting generated until the PTC issued calls via its website and "alert emails" for complaints.

In other words the complainers didn't view and get offended by the material, they are responding to other people's reports of offensive television.

I have a lot of trouble with that. It's one thing to turn on the TV and see something which I find offensive and quite another to get offended that others, many of whom may have very well wanted to, got to view something which I personally don't like to see.

It's the same thing as talking trash about a movie, play or piece of art work that one hasn't seen. If someone comes up to me and starts talking about how horrible Michael Moore's Farenheit 9-11 or Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is, the first question out of my mouth is "Did you see the movie?" If they say "No", my response is, "Come back and talk to me after you have." They usually slink away muttering something along the lines of "I don't need to see it to know that it is garbage." Maybe so, but you do need to see it to carry on an intelligent conversation with me about it.

A case in point is the "featured" clip on the Parents Television Council website from the non-broadcast, cable only show South Park. I have no doubt at all that many people find the show offensive. Like other similar shows on The Comedy Central channel it is crude, lewd and often uses bathroom humor.

But so what? People are not forced to watch the show. They are not even forced to let the footage into their homes. Almost all cable and satellite providers provide "parental controls" on their set top boxes. In addition every TV made since January of 2000 has come equipped with the so called "V-chip" which allows parents to block out offensive shows and channels. (oddly enough the V-chip is one of the most under-utilized features of modern TV's. Most home owners don't know and don't care to learn how to use the feature.

The attempt to make everyone in America watch TV at the level the most conservative people in the country are comfortable with is wrong. This is censorship, plain and simple. If a broadcaster purposefully airs something outside the rules, during the "Children's hours", on over the air (public airwaves), and you or your children happen to see it, fine. File a complaint. But to attempt to force everyone to view only those things that pass your standards, even over cable channels that you are not forced to watch... Hey, MYOB





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