Fox Broadcasting says fake complaints about one of its programs indicate that decency efforts need to be tightened, or else scrapped altogether.
In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday, the broadcaster warned that “complaint mills” were pumping out “fraudulent form complaints from apparently fake ‘viewers’ using bogus addresses.”
Broadcasters like Fox have long opposed the FCC’s anti-obscenity rules, which they say violate the constitutional right to free speech. In the new comments, Fox says it has uncovered 16 seemingly fraudulent complaints about a November episode of “Family Guy” that it says undercuts the commission’s process of obtaining indecency complaints.
The Parents Television Council is opposing any changes to the complaint process.
The organization has urged supporters to sign their name on form letters to send to the FCC, and disagrees that the entire complaint program should be discredited by the fact that some complaints may have been fraudulent, according to Dan Isett, head of public policy for the organization.
“They know they’re not all defective, and just because some of them are — and statistically, some of them are bound to be defective when you’re talking about numbers this large — that doesn’t change anything about what the FCC is mandated by law to do,” he told The Hill on Tuesday.
The identical letters were sent to Fox after complaints were filed with the FCC. Some of the letters were attributed to addresses that turned out to be empty fields and parking lots, and all the identical complaints were postmarked from a single Miami, Fla., post office, even though they claimed to be from 16 different towns.
Fox is worried that the incident “may not be an isolated occurrence.”
It says that the FCC should abandon the indecency rules or, short of that, stick to a strict procedural order.
“The Commission cannot responsibly administer a narrow indecency enforcement policy, basing investigations on bona fide complaints, if it allows itself to be duped by sham filings," it said.
Isett called the comments "a rather desperate 11th hour attempt by Fox to have some sort of discussion other than the content that is meeting their air.”
Dozens of advocacy groups from the Sierra Club to the Tea Party Express have pre-written comments and letters for supporters to urge the government to take action one way or another.
Preventing the Parent Television Council’s supporters from doing the same thing, Isett said, would be denying them their First Amendment rights.
“This is in no way unusual in the public policy process,” he said. “So for them to pretend like this is somehow unprecedented or too easy is just ludicrous.”
A landmark 1978 Supreme Court case upheld the authority of the FCC to prevent obscene content from being broadcast while children were likely to be watching television. The high court has since upheld the regulator’s authority to police the airwaves.