Parents' group fights FCC bid to loosen indecency rules

The Parents Television Council, a media watchdog group, is pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission's proposal to soften its policy against indecent radio and TV content.

Tim Winter, the president of the Parents Television Council, said in a statement late on Monday that the FCC's announcement is "deeply vexing."

"It unnecessarily weakens a decency law that withstood a ferocious, 10-year constitutional attack waged by the broadcast industry. It invites yet another wave of special interest pressure to obviate the intent of Congress and the will of the American people," Winter said.

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"The FCC is supposed to represent the interests of the American public, not the interests of the entertainment industry," he added.

The commission on Monday issued a request for public comment on a proposal that would focus on penalizing only "egregious" indecency cases. The proposal would be a shift away from the agency's policy, adopted during the Bush administration, of penalizing even "fleeting expletives."

The "fleeting expletives" standard resulted in years of legal battles over curse words uttered during live awards shows and sporting events. 

"Either material is legally indecent or it is not," Winter said. "It is unnecessary for indecent content to be repeated many times in order to be actionable, and it is unwise for the FCC to pursue a new course which will guarantee nothing but a new rash of new litigation."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who plans to step down in the coming weeks, did not issue any indecency fines during his four-year tenure. He had noted that the agency's authority was in legal limbo due to lawsuits claiming the policy violated constitutional free speech rights.

The Supreme Court upheld the FCC's indecency power in a decision last year.

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said he hopes the FCC gives clear guidance to TV stations.

"What broadcasters are seeking more than anything else from the FCC is certainty," Wharton said in an interview. "The last thing a broadcaster wants to do is risk losing its license or a $325,000 fine over programming that may or may not be defined as indecent."

He argued that broadcast TV stations are aimed at a wide audience and that they wouldn't air shocking or indecent material even if the rules were lifted entirely.

"The idea that we would start airing Sopranos-like content is absurd," Wharton said.

But he also suggested that it is unfair to apply the indecency standards only to broadcast TV stations.

"If four out of five people are getting broadcast TV through a satellite, cable or telco TV provider, why are they getting a free ride on this?" he asked.