Survey says FCC is dead wrong

On March 15, the FCC reached decisions in hundreds of thousands of backlogged indecency complaints it had received since 2004. The commission slapped almost $4 million dollars in fines on various networks, with CBS getting the lion's share at $3.6 million. A new poll says the despite the brouhaha, most Americans don't want the Feds to control their TV.

The media group Television Watch, a coalition of individuals and organizations that oppose government control of TV and promote tools such as parental education instead, conducted the nationwide survey with Reed Research between March 24 to 26. The poll asked TV viewers who they want in control of what's on TV--individuals or the FCC.

Despite a huge spike in indecency complaints--NBC show Las Vegas received 140,000 in January 2006 alone--it turns out most people want themselves, not Uncle Sam, deciding what they watch. The survey shows that a huge majority of respondents, 87 percent, think that TV ratings and parental controls are the best way to regulate TV viewing, and 82 percent believe that individuals should be exercising control over what they watch. A mere 12 percent think that government regulation is a good thing. TV Watch then notes that according to a 2002 poll, more people believe in alien abductions than think the government should control TV.

"When more people believe in more alien abductions than think the government should control what adults watch on TV, it puts efforts to have government-control television programming in perspective," said Jim Dyke, Executive Director of TV Watch, in a statement.

The report was done in response to the heavy fines that were imposed by the FCC against several networks.

CBS was slapped with $3.6 million in fines--$550,000 came from the infamous Super Bowl mishap involving Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction--and the rest were from an episode of crime drama Without a Trace, which featured a scene of a teen orgy. VH1 got nailed for a Surreal Life nude pool party scene, even though the naughty bits were digitally blurred (to be fair, the scene involved Andy Dick and Ron Jeremy), and NBC got dinged for a rape scene in a movie on its Spanish-language network.

The other networks were also chastised for various indecent infractions, but the FCC only levied fines against what it decided was the most severe. When the fines were imposed, some worried about a "chilling effect" on broadcast TV--the political climate would discourage freedom of speech and networks would censor themselves for fear of being fined. This fear seemed to become reality when The WB caved on airing the original "steamy" pilot of its new show The Bedford Diaries (the uncut version ended up on the Web).

This report reinforces the notion that the indecency outrage is being made by a small, vocal minority. The campaign against Las Vegas was the work of one group--The American Family Association, the group that was also responsible for campaigns against the TV show The Book of Daniel and that enacted a one-year boycott of the Ford Motor Company because they advertised in gay-friendly publications.

"For too long, activists have gone unchallenged as they pressure the government to control broadcast television content, even though their idea of control has very little public support," Mr. Dyke added.

At the very least, this new report should keep the debate open--that is, if the complainers aren't too busy on the phone calling the FCC.

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