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Home : Arts : Arts and Entertainment News
7/29/2013 9:46:00 AM
Groups seek indecency enforcement vow from FCC nominee
Catholic News Service

Pornography in the movies is one thing. Indecency on television is another.

In the past four years, more than 1 million complaints have been filed with the Federal Communications Commission about indecency on the public airwaves. Not that there were 1 million separate incidents of alleged indecency; there were certainly some instances were organized campaigns urged followers to complain to the FCC about content.

Even so, 1 million complaints are a sure sign of unease over TV content over a four-year period of time.

However, during Julius Genachowski's four-year tenure as FCC chairman, not one complaint was investigated.

That lack of enforcement has raised the concern of dozens of groups that President Barack Obama's pick to head the FCC, Tom Wheeler, won't be any different.

Under the leadership of Morality in Media, 70 groups signed a letter urging members of the Senate to block confirmation of the Wheeler nomination until he signals his intent on enforcement of federal decency laws.

This is similar to the Morality in Media campaign that landed more than 100,000 comments earlier this year when the Genachowski-led FCC issued a proposal to relax the federal indecency standard to allow for the occasional flash of nudity or outburst of profanity.

The issue then becomes one of whether anyone in the Senate will listen. The issue becomes more complicated with the mid-July tweak in Senate rules that pretty much stopped Republican filibustering of Obama's non-judicial appointees to allow them to come up for a vote.

But Patrick Trueman, the executive director of Morality in Media, thinks he's gained some traction with his July 9 letter to senators.

"I've had three staff members form three different (Senate) Democrats, from the House and Senate committee yet to vote on his confirmation, saying this is a serious issue with their boss," Trueman said. "And of course, there are several Republicans."

Trueman added, "The letter that we sent with (the names of) 70 group leaders on it is making a difference. It's causing some senators to give pause and consider whether Mr. Wheeler should give further statements about his willingness to enforce the decency law. Of course, Mr. Wheeler could resolve this by saying that he will vigorously enforce federal decency law."

After a nominee has a Senate committee or subcommittee hearing, senators are allowed to pose questions in writing of the nominee, asking to comment on a subject or to clarity responses given during initial testimony.

Wheeler was asked about indecency during his hearing. "All he could muster is that he has grandchildren and he's concerned what they have to see on TV," Trueman said. "Basically, he punted."

The July 9 letter said: "Mr. Wheeler can't just say there is a problem; he needs to say how he will use his enforcement authority as FCC chairman to fix it. The American public has a right to decency at home. No network or shock jock has any right to invade that sacred space with indecent programming."

Trueman said two Republican senators, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Matt Blunt of Missouri, have indicated they will grill Wheeler about his stand on indecency enforcement.

"Wheeler will have to clarify specifically what he intends to do about the federal decency law, so he won't get out of the responsibility to state his position. He must state it," Trueman said.

The issue, as Trueman sees it, is whether the FCC will become a paper tiger of sorts if it lets indecent material litter the airwaves. Currently, no indecent material is to be broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., the hours children are most likely to be part of the viewing audience. Still, just what constitutes indecency has been a difficult target to zero in on.

The FCC "should not be proposing more nudity and profanity on television, especially when kids are in the audience," Trueman said

The problem is they don't see that Federal Communication Commission acting, they'll stop complaining about television," he added. The Federal Communications Commission is solely responsible for decency on television. When you have people like Genachowski saying the Federal Communications Commission's not going to do its job, the people have no recourse."

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