Washington Watch


Indecent Underexposure

Broadcasters' self-regulation on the indecency front may be paying off, at least in terms of complaints.

According to the FCC's quarterly report, released last week, indecency and obscenity complaints against broadcast TV and radio dropped from 157,016 in first quarter 2005 to 6,161 in the second quarter, down from 272,818 in second quarter 2004.

The drop since January has also been precipitous, from 138,652 to 14,480 in February, to 3,884 in March, to approximately 2,000 per month from April through June. January and February totals were boosted by Parents Television Council complaints against CBS' CSI (infantilism) and Without a Trace (teen orgy).

Several major media companies, including Viacom, Clear Channel and Emmis, have settled indecency complaints with both dollars and pledges to crack down on content the FCC doesn't like.

The beginning of the drop-off in complaints dovetails with a concerted effort by the broadcast and cable industries to educate viewers about the ratings system, V-chip and other parental-control devices. Broadcaster-backed TV Watch, a group opposing government control of TV programming, said, “If the number of complaints has plummeted, then perhaps the Parents Television Council has gone through a downsizing, since almost all the complaints the FCC receives originate with that one organization.”


Key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week were intent on giving the Justice Department more weapons in the fight to protect copyrighted material—movies, TV shows, songs—from digital piracy. If more help isn't provided, said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), piracy will “destroy every copyright industry.”

Feinstein's constituents include the big studios, which would be affected. Feinstein suggested Congress needs to step in, that peer-to-peer file trading has not been stemmed by the Supreme Court's decision in Grokster.

During the hearing on protecting content while preserving innovation post-Grokster, Feinstein and committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) pushed a Justice Department witness to tell them what tools she needed to effectively discourage illegal peer-to-peer file swapping.

More lawyers would help, said Debra Wong Yang, U.S. attorney and chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee on Cyber/Intellectual Property Subcommittee. She said the Justice Department was going after major players, not second-tier inducers. Specter asked why she did not do both. The answer: lack of resources.

Networks Ask FCC To Delay Kids' Rules

The parent companies of the Big Three broadcast networks and various cable channels have banded together to try to delay FCC implementation of new children's- TV rules, saying the rules need clarification, were a surprise and suffer legal flaws.

Children's activists were not pleased. The rules, which include counting show promos as ads and preventing shows from including Web links to products pitched by their characters, were released in fall 2004 and are to take effect Jan. 1. They apply to both broadcasters and cable.

The companies, including Walt Disney, NBC Universal and Viacom, last week asked the commission to delay implementation until 90 days after it had ruled on their various challenges.

“It would disserve the public interest and impose significant disruption on the companies to require them to make the dramatic changes to their business practices necessary to ensure compliance with the new rules as adopted,” the networks said, “only to have to reconfigure those practices if and when the rules are modified or reconsidered.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, PTA, Children Now and others asked the FCC to deny the petition, saying, “The industry's attempt to delay these rules demonstrates their choice to prioritize their financial interest above their irresponsibility to serve children.”