Skip to main content

PTC, MIM Want Wheeler to Pledge to Enforce Indecency

Indecency foes including Parents Television Council (PTC)
and Morality in Media (MIM) are urging Senators to press FCC chair Tom Wheeler
on how he would enforce the indecency regs on the books.

That was not on the list of issues suggested in a Republican
staff memo on the hearing, and Wheeler did not address it in his brief
testimony for the hearing, according to a copy.

Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has long been
concerned about TV content, including proposing bills to expand the FCC's
enforcement powers to include violent as well as sexual programming and
language. New Communications Subcommittee chairman Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) has also
been active on the content front, also concerned about violence and
motormanning a 2008 bill encouraging use of content screening technologies for

Last fall, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski began working on
clearing the backlog of over a million indecency complaints by pursuing only
the most egregious cases, then sought public comment on whether that should be
the FCC's new approach going forward, which would in essence be a "back to
the future" course change from the "fleeting" indecency pursuit
that seemed to occupy much of the FCC's attention under previous chairman Kevin
Martin to the more restrained approach of the previous FCC's. 

Wheeler's nomination hearing on Tuesday comes the day before
initial comments are due on that more restrained enforcement policy. 

"Senate Commerce Committee needs Wheeler to commit to
defending TV decency standards," Morality in Media said in an email Monday.
PTC said last week it would actively oppose Wheeler's confirmation unless he
"does not make it clear that he will support enforcement of the broadcast
indecency law."

The FCC actually has a lot of discretion in how it
determines whether a broadcast was indecent. Staffers making the initial
determination must look at "what was actually aired, the meaning of what
was aired and the context in which it was aired."

The direction from the chairman to only go after egregious
cases, whichB&C reported back in February,
followed the Supreme Court decision in FCC v. Fox decision that the FCC's
fleeting indecency and profanity enforcement policy, at least as applied, was
too vague. The court did not find the regime unconstitutional, but said it was
applied with insufficient notice, which violates administrative procedure.

The current FCC has spent several years defending previous
efforts to regulate fleeting nudity and profanity. But last September, the
commission dropped its pursuit of Fox over nonpayment of a 2003 indecency fine
for Married by America, dismissing a
suit in D.C. District court.

Although the FCC has defended the fleeting
indecency enforcement policy in court, the chairman has been far more focused
on broadband than on parsing content. Under the new "egregious-only"
standard, the chairman has been able to reduce the majority of the complaint
backlog, according to the commission.