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Groups: Block FCC from winking at indecency

WASHINGTON (BP) — Leaders of 80 state and national groups concerned with morality have endorsed a letter asking Congress to block the Federal Communications Commission from weakening the enforcement of the broadcast decency law.

The Parents Television Council and Morality in Media drafted the letter asking key Congressional committees to oppose the FCC’s effort to allow television and radio stations to broadcast before 10 p.m. Eastern the type of nudity and/or expletives normally reserved for cable TV, according to Dan Isett, PTC director of public policy. Among the signers is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The FCC is considering permitting “isolated expletives” and isolated “non-sexual nudity” on broadcast TV, something that currently could draw a fine.

“This is one of those issues that brings people together from across the aisle and all the way across the aisle,” Isett told Baptist Press. “I think that there’s an awful lot of people concerned about what’s happened at the FCC both in terms of the simple process of it and the change of policy that seems to have been implemented.”

The FCC has opened the issue for public comment, as required by law, and has extended until June 19 the comment period originally set to expire May 20. Isett encourages concerned citizens to comment.

“If the American people think that standards of decency mean something, that it’s important to protect children at certain times of day on the airwaves that we own, then they must file a public comment, and it’s really easy to do so on the FCC website,” Isett said.

While the FCC is seeking permission to change its standards in judging what is allowable for broadcast during hours targeting child viewership, Isett said the FCC has already invoked a new standard in dismissing about a million backlogged cases between September, 2012 and April.

The FCC dismissed the cases because, according to Isett, it followed the direction of outgoing chairman Julius Genachowski and deemed the cases not “egregious” enough to pursue.

According to an FCC public notice dated April 1, Genachowski “directed the Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) to focus its indecency enforcement resources on egregious cases and to reduce the backlog of pending broadcast indecency complaints.”

Having dismissed complaints that were “beyond the statute of limitations or too stale to pursue, that involved cases outside FCC jurisdiction, that contained insufficient information, or that were foreclosed by settled precedent,” the notice reads, “the Bureau is also actively investigating egregious indecency cases and will continue to do so.”

Isett said pursuing cases based on their “egregious” nature is outside the law and has not been approved by Congress, which has FCC oversight.

“The FCC has made these decisions unilaterally and in this particular case the FCC chairman acted unilaterally and made a policy change without any input from the rest of the FCC, or the public or Congress,” Isett told Baptist Press. “I don’t know if it’s illegal, but it’s certainly outside what the law says. And the law says indecent material can’t be broadcast. … It doesn’t qualify it for a so-called egregious standard.

“There has been a law in place regarding indecent material broadcast over the publicly owned airways since the dawn of the medium, almost 100 years. And now you have a single FCC chairman acting unilaterally … that has made de facto the case that there will be virtually no standard at all,” Isett said.

“That’s why Congress has to get involved to make sure the law they’ve passed, that’s been affirmed by the Supreme Court a number of times now, is in fact implemented,” he said. “It was necessary in this case both to make sure that Congress was aware that this had happened and to make sure that Congress had the ability to act in its oversight role to make sure that the law was enforced.”

PTC President Tim Winter led the list of signatures on the letter addressed to members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“The FCC’s proposal to weaken the law’s enforcement by applying it only to ‘egregious’ violations is absurd, and it must be defeated,” Winter said in a press release. “In American jurisprudence, the scale of egregiousness for a violation of the law serves to determine the consequence for the violation. It does not define whether the law has been broken. The FCC should act consistent with legal doctrine.

“If a broadcaster violates the law, then the egregious nature of that violation should help the FCC to determine an appropriate sanction — period.”

Joining Winter in signing the letter are Land, Morality in Media President Patrick A. Trueman, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Alliance Defending Freedom President Alan Sears and Focus on the Family Senior Vice President Tom Minnery, among others.

The letter urges Congress to make sure the FCC takes “seriously its duty to enforce federal law 18 U. S. C. 1464, limiting indecency and profanity on the publicly owned airwaves to times of day when children are much less likely to be in the audience.

“The FCC has been derelict in this regard under the leadership of its current Chairman Julius Genachowski, having executed no enforcement actions during his tenure,” the letter charges. “We strongly urge you to oppose the FCC proposed changes, outlined in a Public Notice of April 1, 2013, GN Docket No. 13-86, to its established indecency enforcement standard.”

Isett said Congress should also include questions regarding enforcement of the broadcast decency law when conducting confirmation hearings for Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s nominee for FCC chairman.

To comment, log onto the FCC’s electronic comment filing system website, http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs//, click on “submit a filing,” and type proceeding number 13-86 where prompted.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).