PTC Weighs in as Friend of FCC

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The Parents Television Council, filing for Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and citizens for Community Values, among others, has asked the U.S. Appeals Court for the Second Circuit in New York to uphold the FCC's cussing crackdown.

It a "friend of the court" brief, in this case a friend of the FCC, PTC says the commission has taken "affirmative steps for "decency" and community standards in the face of an "assault" by broadcasters.

Staking out some populist ground, PTC says it offered its argument "without the aid of high-brow law firms or big-name attorneys--Michael Estrada, for example, wrote a brief for NBC, one of the broadcasters challenging four, whittled down to two, profanity decisions issues by the FCC last March.

"We beseech this court to consider this modest plea," PCS continued in its David vs. Goliath mode.

PTC says it concedes that indecency can be "difficult at times to define"  in light of a nationwide community standard. For example, it says, "People would likely hear more profanity in 20 minutes at a New York City taxi stand than they would hear over the course of an entire year in most communities in the United States. But, PTC suggests, when the going gets tough, the tough still have to try to draw a line somewhere.

In fact, says PTC, "if the FCC had ruled on the merits of each of the thousands of complaints which were in essence plea bargained away in the recent and various FCC consent decrees [including a November 2005 $3.5 million settlement with Viacom over all non-Janet Jackson complaints], both broadcasters and the public would have better guidance about what is or is not indecent."

Broadcasters and others point out that the majority of indecency complaints have been filed by members of PTC and similar groups, but the groups counter that whether it comes from a member of the public, or a member of the public who is a member of their group, "the critical fact is that each complaint comes from  a real person...who is concerned about broadcast decency and wants the law enforced." It likened criticizing the source of the complaints to the police diminishing the value of complaints of a crime being committed because hey had all been placed by members of a "neighborhood watch" group.

PTC also says that it doesn't matter whether or not the complainant saw the broadcast or not. "If the law was broken, the law was broken."

The FCC has taken a different tack, withdrawing a complaint against cussing on NYPD Blue because, it says, the complaint did not come from someone in the market who could have seen the indecency broadcast. Though the FCC's friend in this court, PTC has challenged the FCC on that withdrawal.

Responding to broadcasters contention that the indecency crackdown threatens live programming, PTC argues that a five-second delay is not qualitatively different from the 5-10 second technological delay from an event to its appearance on the TV set. " Instantaneous viewing is a fiction," it says.

PTC also alleges that networks rate their programs inaccurately on purpose so that advertisers won't be scared away from fare that is "too sexually charged or otherwise indecent." It also calls "utter rubbish" the contention that indecency law impinges on creative freedom, saying that most programmers have cable and other digital platforms to program with "indecent" material if they chose.

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