McDowell:FCCQuietly DismissingIndecencyComplaints

The FCC has quietly dismissed indecency complaints against
TV stations and more than 6,000 programs, which should clear the way for some
of the 315 pending TV license renewals, most of which are being held up by the
complaints, to be processed, said Robert McDowell, FCC Commissioner.

McDowell told an audience of broadcasters at the NAB
State Leadership Conference in Washington
Monday that after his staff had been in touch with the Enforcement Bureau about
how some of those license issues could be resolved "we discovered that the
bureau has actually been quietly dismissing complaints that fall outside the
scope of our authority." That includes complaints against programming that
had aired between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when the FCC's indecency rules do not
apply, and ones dealing with violent content, over which the FCC has no
authority. FCC sources in the past have also pointed to the dropping of some
complaints due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

There were over a million complaints in the pipeline,
McDowell has said previously. Monday he did not talk in terms of complaints,
but programs, saying that about 15,000 broadcasts were the subjects of those complaints
as of last year, and that those had now been whittled down to 8,700 by last

McDowell, who has said the FCC needed to work through that
backlog, gave FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski props for progress, and said
he hoped it would continue.

McDowell said he expected the courts to scrutinize the
spectrum scarcity argument for content regulation. He said that as a father of
small children, "we need to protect our kids from harmful content."
But he also said there were a lot of technology tools at parents' disposal.
"Parents should be the first and last line of defense." He also
pointed out he was at the bill-signing ceremony when President Bush signed
the law boosting the indecency fines by ten-fold. National Association of
Broadcasters President Gordon Smith, who was interviewing McDowell,
broke in to point out that he had voted to approve those increased fines,
adding that he was glad that had not come up in the interview.

McDowell said that bill was important and it was the FCC's
role to follow the statute, and looked forward to more guidance from the

Smith said that non broadcasters have the "common
misperception" about the difference between broadcast and cable. "We
do want creative freedom," he said. "I know the First Amendment;
I respect the First Amendment; we defend the First Amendment," he said.
"But broadcasters aren't in the indecency business," a point he wanted
his state broadcast association member audience to take to the Hill on
their visits in the next couple of days. "There is a big difference between
free TV and subscription TV. Most consumers don't know the difference."

He said to his audience as they prepared to talk to members
of Congress, that "the indecency standard actually helps us because it
does play to the concerns that dad's like McDowell have about what their kids are
watching. Broadcasting is on the side of good in this regard."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.