The outcry over indecency is a big lie

: I was interviewed by Betsy Karetnick at Howard 100 Radio, Stern’s own news operation on Sirius, about the FCC and indecency; it’s scheduled to be on tonight at 6. (I resisted the tempting opportunity to say “bullshit” and not be bleeped.)

The news: Adam Thierer of the Progress and Freedom Foundation released a study that shows how the FCC counts — and inflates — indecency complaints. A year ago, I exposed such inflation behind the FCC’s largest fine ever against the already-canceled Married by America: The FCC said 159 complained (that’s all?) then said the real number was 90 then admitted that only 23 people sent the complaints and it turned out that all but two came from the so-called Parents Television Council’s automated kvetch-machine. Now Thierer finds that the FCC counts indecency complaints like no other complaints it receives and among the scandals he reports: If you CC a complaint to five commissioners, they count that as five complaints. “The FCC’s figures confirm that the vast majority of complaints are duplicate emails that are generated against a relative handful of programs disfavored by activist groups.” And Theirer lists the programs they hate, which happen to be many of the programs America loves.

Further, Thierer reveals that much of what is behind an alleged explosion of complaints — and, the implication is, indecency — is a change in the FCC’s method of counting complaints:

Prior to the summer of 2003, the Commission aggregated together all such identically worded form letters or computer-generated electronic complaints and counted them as a single complaint. But at some point during the summer of 2003, the FCC quietly changed its methodology to count group complaints as individual complaints.

Those are the lies behind the supposed outcry against indecency in America. There is no damned outcry. It’s bullshit (there, I said it). It is manufactured by the PTC with the eager conspiracy of the FCC. Together, with Congress, they have set policy that is damaging the First Amendment and hastening the decline of mass media — and mass media corporations are, all in all, cowed and letting it happen. But what offends me most is that “news” media have reported this alleged trend as if it were true.

At last week’s FourSquare conference, filled with major media machers, I asked current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin about this. The conference is off-the-record and Martin didn’t say anything of note anyway, but I’ll tell you want I said: I reminded him that Stern had less than a month on the air because of the FCC’s actions, that Clear Channel’s bottom line has been hurt since they threw him off the air under FCC pressure, that Viacom had to blow up its business and admits it will see declines. I pointed to what we’d just heard in the room about how far ahead of us Japan and Korea are in technology infrastructure and innovation and how far behind of our goals we are with the communications infrastructure necessary for disasters and security. I said that creating more government regulation was an odd thing for a Republican to be doing. And I asked whether he shouldn’t be worrying about those things “and not wasting time on farts.” The room of moguls not only laughed. They applauded.

: Here is my Guardian column this week on Stern, the FCC, and the First Amendment.