Questions from Sophie; she writes:
Taken from Sourcewatch.org, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy: “Mediaweek reported in December of 2004 that 99.8% of 240,000 complaints made to the FCC complaining about indecency in 2003 originated from members of the Parents Television Council. PTC members are primarily responsible for the over 1,500 percent increase in complaints since 2002 (~14,000 complaints) and the increase of over 65,000 percent since 2001 (~350 complaints).”
In this case, it seems that a small minority has been able to pressure and influence the FCC’s enforcement on indecency and indecency standards.
Where should the FCC draw the line on complaints generated from individuals or repeatedly from activist groups?
Should complaints by a minority of the population be allowed to influence the FCC in the way that it does, thus deciding what the millions of others can see or hear?
How should the FCC handle or evaluate these kinds of complaints?
Should they be taken seriously or dismissed?
If the complaint is reasonable—as coming from a sensible person or group—I think everyone should have the chance to be heard in anticipation of a response [of course, even those deemed unreasonable should be able to have their say, as long as no physical or emotional harm comes in response to their words. However, in this instance, any proposed court case based upon such an individual’s complaint should be dismissed]. To restrict complaints is to restrict a citizen’s freedom of speech. Most of these protests seem to fall into the same or similar categories, so it is feasible for the FCC to respond with conclusions already drawn or court cases already determined. There will always be those groups who are more vocal about certain issues because they rally for those causes. It is not, then, surprising the FCC hears so many objections to programming from the PTC, for the FCC is probably their main outlet to be heard and their best chance to trigger some change. I don’t, therefore, think there should be a line drawn regarding how many or who complains to the FCC. I do, however, think they should take into account the source and number of complaints when ruling on new broadcasting and content restrictions.
Of course the FCC should be allowed to act on complaints from a minority of the population. If minorities had no voice in matters of public regulation I shudder to think about the ways in which society would move or what stagnation of thought and morals would settle. The distinction comes in how the FCC should respond to these complaints—in how heavily they should weigh them with regard to the rest of society, the demographics and psychographics of the audience, the quality of the speech that would be restricted, etc. All claims, as stated previously, if reasonable should be taken seriously and fully considered before being dismissed. [One could enter into the debate defining a reasonable source or complaint, yet as we have discussed in class, for our purposes now, a general understanding of “reasonable” will suffice]. It would be blatantly unconstitutional to refuse or dismiss speech before heard or even considered; it would be a danger to the health of society and the citizen’s personal liberty. Fortunately, if for some reason programming became over restricted as a result of theses complaints, one would hope, the minority this time pushing for less restriction, would be given the same opportunity and weight of voice to enact similar change. From reading chapter five, it sounds like the FCC has always struggled with “an uneven approach to balanced programming and equal access to broadcasting facilities” [p369, Tedford and Herbeck]. Part of the balancing process is hearing all sides, no matter their position or number of voices.