The number of indecency complaints had soared dramatically to more than 240,000 in the previous year , Powell said. The figure was up from roughly 14,000 in 2002, and from fewer than 350 in each of the two previous years. There was, Powell said, “a dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes.”
What Powell did not reveal—apparently because he was unaware—was the source of the complaints. According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003—99.8 percent—were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group. [Calculation of this percent from the 240,000 quoted above results in approx 4800 complaints NOT from the PTC.]
In such a system, even the number of complaints becomes an object of contention. For example, the agency on Oct. 12, in proposing fines of nearly $1.2 million against Fox Broadcasting and its affiliates, said it received 159 complaints against Married by America, which featured strippers partly obscured by pixilation.
But when asked, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said it could find only 90 complaints from 23 individuals. (The smaller total was first reported by Internet-based TV writer Jeff Jarvis; Mediaweek independently obtained the Enforcement Bureau’s calculation.) And Fox, in a filing last Friday, told the FCC that it should rescind the proposed fines, in part because the low number of complaints fell far short of indicating that community standards had been violated.
“All but four of the complaints were identical…and only one complainant professed even to have watched the program,” Fox said. It said the network and its stations had received 34 comments, “a miniscule total for a show that had a national audience of 5.1 million households.”
Sole proprietor of Satire for Hire (insults for free), dedicated to finding the proper barb to place in the body politic. A professional dandy (reasonable rates) and raconteur-in-training, DemiOrator sails the bloggy waves looking for peace. Lacking that, he posts rants of disdain and mockery.