The Morality in Media organization is urging lawmakers to lean on President Bush’s pending nominees to the Federal Communications Commission to make the agency more aggressive about fighting on-air smut.
“The commission appears so averse to indecency cases, and has erected so many barriers to complaints from members of the public, that indecency enforcement has become almost nonexistent,” the morality group said in a recent letter to Congress.
“It is time for Congress to exercise oversight of the FCC before the transformation of broadcasting is complete-from a medium that should be serving the public interest into one that is polluting the public airwaves and endangering the welfare of children,” the group added.
The letter said group members are concerned in particular that the FCC, in a recently released series of guidelines on the subject, made clear that complaints should include a transcript or a tape of the alleged improprieties. The guidelines also said the FCC has no intention of monitoring broadcaster indecencies on its own.
“There is no justification [statutory or constitutional] for requiring complaints to provide tapes or transcripts,” the group’s letter said. “It means that the public cannot be protected from indecency on the public airwaves unless they have the foresight to have a tape recorder running when the offending language is broadcast.”
According to the group, the FCC should also be encouraged to fine broadcasters or yank their licenses for offenses.
“TV licensees might as well have diplomatic immunity as far as broadcast indecency is concerned,” the group said, noting that no TV station has been fined for indecency in more than 20 years. “When it comes to ever-increasing amounts [and explicitness] of TV sex and vulgarity, the FCC’s inexplicable policy is `see no evil, hear no evil.”’
The Bush administration’s three new nominees to the FCC-and Chairman Michael Powell’s appointment to a five-year extension of his current term-are pending, with Senate hearings expected within the next several weeks.
A Senate Commerce Committee spokeswoman said the hearings for the three new commissioners might be scheduled for May 17. But at deadline the committee had yet to receive the official paperwork for Mr. Powell’s extension, so it was unclear whether his hearing could be scheduled for the same time.
A spokesman for Mr. Powell declined comment about the indecency concerns.