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GAO’s Figures on FCC Indecency Complaints Questioned

According to a new Government Accountability Office report on the Federal Communications Commission's complaint-enforcement process, the FCC received 16,076 indecency complaints for the four years between 2003 and 2006.

That would include the whole Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime reveal period, when, we have been told by the FCC itself, more than 1.4 million complaints were filed against that broadcast alone.

Apparently, there is a difference between the number the FCC reports for complaints and the number it uses for enforcement purposes given the high volume of duplicate complaints it would otherwise have to enter into its database.

The GAO report, which criticized the FCC's complaint-enforcement process, said it culled the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs database to come up with that and other complaint figures. The FCC did not specifically address the issue of that complaint figure, but it did say that the GAO missed some data in the database that called its numbers into question. The GAO countered that it stood by its numbers.

But according to a summary on the FCC Web site identified as "complaints received by the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau" between 1993 and 2006, the total for 2003-06 was more than 150 times that figure, or 2,693,560.

"I don't know where they are getting that [16,076] number,” said Dan Isett of the Parents Television Council.”It's absurd … I know it to be false because we have generated more than that just on our Web site."

An FCC spokesman pointed out that the figure "does not include a high-volume of e-mails received in a short time about the same broadcast." When the complaints dealt with the same issue, the FCC spokesman added, the commission did not always enter each separate e-mail into the database that was the subject of the GAO review.

Mark Goldstein, author of the GAO report, agreed that the FCC reports the figure differently "for enforcement purposes," conceding that the agency "takes out the high-volume 'campaign' complaints where they get 10,000 of one thing because, obviously, they are not going to enforce the same thing 10,000 times."