The FCC, PTC And Bogus Indecency Counts
from the the-indecent-thing-is-the-process dept
Let's start with constant FCC watcher, Matthew Lasar, who notes the latest roller coaster swing:
How come the latest stats, in this instance for the first quarter of this year, show the viewers relatively calm at 578 complaints in January, then 505 in February, followed by 179,997 in March?Yes, Family Guy is apparently destroying the morals of America, and the FCC must do something. But even more troubling is just how PTC was able to get so many votes. You see, it didn't really like the way votes were counted in the past, so it pressured the FCC to change the way it counts to make it that much easier for PTC to stuff the ballot box in massive quantities to put extra pressure on the FCC to act. Adam Theirer explains the changes:
179,997? Um, did we miss something? Did television really get that much more indecent in March? No worries. In these situations, we know what to do. We go over and check out the Parents Television Council's website. And sure enough, there's a plausible instigator--a PTC viewer action alert crusade against a March 8 episode of the animated comedy show the PTC just loves to hate, Fox TV's Family Guy.
The FCC quietly and without major notice made two methodological changes to its tallying of broadcast indecency complaints in 2003 & 2004 that PTC requested:Even more troubling, Theirer notes, is that the FCC gave no public notice of these changes, hiding them in footnotes to reports after-the-fact (and wording the footnotes in confusing ways). And it's not like this was a change across the FCC -- it was specifically designed to further the political goals of the PTC:
As I have made clear before, I have absolutely no problem with the PTC, or any other advocacy group exercising their First Amendment rights to petition their government and make their views known. What I do have a problem with -- a very big problem, in fact -- is when one group so disproportionately influences the process, especially by changing the way complaints are counted.
- On July 1, 2003, the agency began tallying each computer-generated complaint sent to the FCC by any advocacy group as an individual complaint, rather than as one complaint as had been done previously. The advocacy group benefiting from that change had challenged the FCC to make the change by June 30th and boasted later that it was responsible for the FCC's redirection, citing reassurances of FCC commissioners.
- In the first quarter of 2004 -- the time when the Super Bowl incident with Janet Jackson occurred -- the FCC began counting complaints multiple times if the individual sent the complaint to more than one office within the FCC. This change, which had the capability of increasing by a factor of 5 or 6 or 7 the number of complaints recorded, was noted in a footnote of that quarter's FCC Quarterly Report. The footnote acknowledged that "[t]he reported counts may also include duplicate complaints or contacts..."
More shockingly, as far as I can tell, the FCC only made these methodological changes for indecency complaints, not for any other category of complaints that the agency receives! Finally, and probably worst of all, these bogus numbers were then used by FCC officials and congressional lawmakers as supporting evidence for the supposed public outcry for more regulation of television and radio.Regulatory capture in action. Hopefully, the new administration and the new FCC recognizes this and stops trying to have the government act as a censor for a small group of people offended that people don't know how to use the "change channel" or "power off" features on their televisions.