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The media moguls loosen their grip on local affiliates while the big three loosen their grip on morality

The Parents Television Council didn't have long to enjoy its jubilation over the $550,000 fine the Federal Communications Commission levied on CBS for Janet Jackson's briefly bared breast (but clad nipple) at the Super Bowl last winter. It's up in arms again this week over the airing of the "f" word during the September 17 broadcast of Big Brother 5. Never mind that Big Brother 5, which concluded its season last week and is now accepting applications for round six, is a reality show about young adults, and young adults in the real world (even the faux real world of reality television) say "f**k."

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It would help PTC's cause, in my eyes at any rate, if they displayed some sense of humor - like an e-mail subject line such as "f**cked again!" Or indicated that they appreciate the complexity of trying to enforce universal decency standards nationwide in a country of almost 291 million culturally and socio-economically diverse peoples, or the irony inherent in an organization called the Parents Television Council keeping tabs on a show called Big Brother. But these are dead serious people with a big job on their hands. To convince far-off studio execs that a portion of the population is howling in disgust than is howling with laughter when the animated Roy (of Siegfried and Roy) in NBC's Father of the Pride sleeps with a grandmother to get her to turn her bed & breakfast into a casino, PTC must motivate hundreds of individuals to file complaints with the FCC.

The FCC in turn investigates complaints in part using a contemporary community decency standard which, as you might imagine, can vary by community. The federal law that prohibits "obscene, profane, and indecent" programming is worded to specifically address sexual content and excludes material that "as a whole" has "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." PTC probably has Big Brother on that one, but it's not clear that "fuck" has much to do with fucking these days.

In July ABC, NBC, and Fox sent letters to their local stations that effectively gives them more control over local programming.
PTC also encourages outraged viewers to stop networks from "poison`ing` our younger generation with filth" by writing to their local affiliates. Coincidentally, in July ABC, NBC, and Fox sent letters to their local stations that effectively gives them more control over local programming. Prior to July's notice, affiliate contracts in effect forbade the preemption of network programming for any but the most narrow of reasons - such as urgent breaking news - although FCC rules give local stations the right to reject programming they find "unsuitable" or in favor of programming they think is of "greater local or national importance." CBS dropped similar restrictions in 2001, but only the network-owned affiliates had to share in the Super Bowl-engendered fine, so KENS 5, San Antonio's local CBS affiliate is off the hook.

Our local NBC outlet, WOAI, Channel 4, which airs the PTC-offending Father of the Pride, is owned by Clear Channel. The company recently negotiated a settlement with the FCC for Howard Stern's violations and made a big, public display last spring of cleaning up its airwaves, which, let's admit it, we all assumed was done so folks wouldn't think the company dumped Stern after he criticized Mays' family friend George W. Bush. Some folks however, PTC included, took them at their word and were apopletic when the new series (touted as being from "the same guys who brought you Shrek") took on sexual frustration, fellatio, and drug use in its premiere episode. PTC is not mollified that the show is scheduled for 8 p.m. Central Time and that ads refer to it as an "adult comedy." For that sort of preventive measure to work, parents would have to exercise local control. •

By Elaine Wolff


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