McDowell: FCC Quietly Dismissing Indecency Complaints


The Federal Communications Commission has quietly dismissed indecency complaints against TV stations and more than 6,000 programs, which should clear the way for some of the 315 pending TV license renewals, most of which are being held up by the complaints, to be processed, said commissioner Robert McDowell.

McDowell told an audience of broadcasters at the NAB State Leadership Conference in Washington Monday that after his staff had been in touch with the Enforcement Bureau about how some of those license issues could be resolved "we discovered that the bureau has actually been quietly dismissing complaints that fall outside the scope of our authority." That includes complaints against programming that had aired between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when the FCC's indecency rules do not apply, and ones dealing with violent content, over which the FCC has no authority. FCC sources in the past have also pointed to the dropping of some complaints due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

There were over a million complaints in the pipeline, McDowell has said previously. Monday he did not talk in terms of complaints, but programs, saying that about 15,000 broadcasts were the subjects of those complaints as of last year, and that those had now been whittled down to 8,700 by last month.

McDowell, who has said the FCC needed to work through that backlog, gave FCC chairman Julius Genachowski props for progress, and said he hoped it would continue.

McDowell said he expected the courts to scrutinize the spectrum scarcity argument for content regulation. He said that as a father of small children, "we need to protect our kids from harmful content." But he also said there were a lot of technology tools at parents' disposal. "Parents should be the first and last line of defense." He also pointed out he was at the bill-signing ceremony when President Bush signed the law boosting the indecency fines by ten-fold. National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith, who was interviewing McDowell, broke in to point out that he had voted to approve those increased fines, adding that he was glad that had not come up in the interview.

McDowell said that bill was important and it was the FCC's role to follow the statute, and looked forward to more guidance from the courts.

Smith said that non broadcasters have the "common misperception" about the difference between broadcast and cable. "We do want creative freedom," he said. "I know the First Amendment; I respect the First Amendment; we defend the First Amendment," he said. "But broadcasters aren't in the indecency business," a point he wanted his state broadcast association member audience to take to the Hill on their visits in the next couple of days. "There is a big difference between free TV and subscription TV. Most consumers don't know the difference."

He said to his audience as they prepared to talk to members of Congress, that "the indecency standard actually helps us because it does play to the concerns that dad's like McDowell have about what their kids are watching. Broadcasting is on the side of good in this regard."