A new proposal that could open America's airwaves to more swearing and occasional nudity has galvanized family groups to organize a massive response that has become one of the largest online comment campaigns in the history of the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC says it now has nearly 75,000 comments from Americans about its proposal to punish only those TV and radio networks that become egregious repeat offenders in airing swearing and nudity. In terms of sheer quantity, that's larger than all but five other proceedings since the FCC started accepting public filings online during the 1990s.
“This issue has generated so much interest because parents are deeply concerned about the corrupting influence of modern media on their children,” said Bryan Fischer, Director of issues analysis for the American Family Association. “The bottom line is that the airways are owned by the American people, and the FCC is supposed to act as a steward of the airwaves for us. They are accountable to us for the decisions they make.”
The FCC issued a public notice April 1 stating the intent to focus its enforcement of decency laws only on “egregious” repeat offenders. That notice kicked off a 30-day period for public comments regarding the FCC’s proposal for decency enforcement. Roughly a week remains ahead of the April 30 deadline for public comments.
“Simply put, the issue of broadcast decency affects every family in the country and Americans have a long and time-honored tradition in law of protecting children from offensive content,” said Dan Isett, Director of Public Policy for the Parents Television Council. “It is no surprise that the American people have spoken up in large numbers to defend their children. … I have yet to find one (comment) that says, ‘Please give us more indecency.’ There may be one in there somewhere, but I haven’t seen it.”
For groups like AFA and PTC, a major sticking point with the FCC’s proposed vision for tweaking decency enforcement is that the new policy would sanction the broadcast of ostensibly offensive content like the f-word or images of female frontal nudity in moderation. In other words, the FCC is basically willing to allow the use of profanity and nudity as long as that sort of risqué content isn’t deliberate and repetitive.
“We’re optimistic, given the overwhelming number of responses they have received, that (the FCC) will do the right thing here,” Fischer said. “American families have made it abundantly clear that they do not want unchecked profanity and nudity piped into their living rooms, and it is incumbent upon the FCC to recognize and honor their wishes.”
Tens of thousands of concerned citizens voiced their opinions by filing a public comment with the FCC thanks in large part to the outreach efforts of American Family Association and Parents Television Council.
“Many of our communications with our members over the past couple of weeks have focused on this issue and the critical nature of the proceeding before the FCC,” Isett said. “It is gratifying that so many have responded, but we expect many more will. … There have been a number of other groups vocal on this issue, notably the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America and Morality in Media.”
Fischer added, “It’s interesting that the day we sent out an action alert to our online network, there were just 12 comments on this issue. Today there are over 74,000 comments; the current (FCC proceeding) with the next highest number of comments has just 626.
“Certainly not all of those 74,000-plus comments came from the AFA network, but many did. I know that the Parents Television Council and the Family Research Council have joined us in raising the profile of this issue.”
Step-by-step instructions for filing a public comment with the FCC are available on the Deseret News website.
With 237,000 filings to date, the FCC proceeding that has generated the greatest amount of electronic filings is the comments portal for the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service. The joint board arose from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and is staffed by “FCC Commissioners, State Utility Commissioners, and a consumer advocate representative.”
Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at email@example.com or 801-236-6051.