Last updated: February 21, 2008 - 2:17am
NETWORKS FIGHT RISING NUMBER OF FCC FINES
[SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, AUTHOR: Amy Schatz Amy.Schatz@wsj.com]
As lawmakers embark on an election-year push to clean up the airwaves, federal regulators' zero-tolerance policy against indecent programming is resulting in a backlash, with broadcasters showing a new willingness to take the fight to the courthouse. That could be problematic for the Federal Communications Commission, which has interpreted the law inconsistently over the years. In a signal that the networks are ready for a fight, they have retained some big legal guns, including Seth P. Waxman, a former solicitor general, and Carter G. Phillips, who has argued more than 50 cases before the Supreme Court. Lawmakers and FCC officials say they need to crack down on the airing of indecent programming because the public is complaining more. Last year, the FCC received 233,531 complaints about indecent broadcasts, compared with 346 in 2001. Broadcasters say the numbers are inflated because a majority of complaints received by the FCC appear to be email campaigns organized by Christian or pro-family interest groups, like the Parents Television Council. PTC complaints were behind the record $3.6 million fine proposed in March against CBS affiliates for an episode of "Without a Trace," which featured a brief scene of a teen sex orgy. Of about 6,500 complaints filed against stations that received fines, all but three appeared to originate as computer-generated form letters.