FCC Indecency Complaints Nosedive in 2005

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission released a report showing that complaints of indecency and obscenity on radio and TV dropped by more than 50 percent — from 318,000 in the last quarter of 2004 to 158,000 in the first quarter of 2005.

In the report, FCC officials speculate that the wave of letter-writing campaigns coordinated by religious and family organizations has finally trailed off as the Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction fades from America’s collective memory and Howard Stern has announced his departure from the public airwaves.

The FCC classifies as indecent any content that describes or relates to “sexual or excretory organs or activities” and is “patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards.” Rules are more strictly enforced for programming during daytime and primetime hours, when children are likely to be watching or listening.

The report does not name specific organizations or broadcasters, but similar reports from 2004 — a year in which complaints reached record levels — did call attention to the fact that the majority of complaints during that year were form letters and cut-and-paste emails from a handful of very vocal groups such as the Family Research Council, the Parents Television Council and Concerned Women from America.

Also, most complaints in 2004 were directed at high-profile targets such as CBS, which broadcasted the Super Bowl, and Infinity Broadcasting, which syndicates Stern’s radio show.

However, the quarterly report did show a 37 percent increase in complaints related to cable TV and satellite radio, both of which are exempt — at least for the time being — from decency rules governing broadcast radio and TV. Earlier this year, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, sponsored a bill that would extend indecency standards to pay services.