New FCC chairman preps his indecent proposal

Org aims to establish clearer guidelines, be consistent

There was good news for showbiz from the FCC last week: The number of indecency complaints is way down — about 6,200 in the second quarter vs. 157,000 in the first quarter of 2005.

But that doesn’t mean the indecency storm has passed.

For the complaints it has received, there’s a backlog waiting for disposition, as chairman Kevin Martin decided to wait and address them all as a package.

FCC attorneys have apparently evaluated anywhere from 50 to 200 complaints and made recommendations either to dismiss or issue fines. Some were ready for review and vote by commissioners over the summer, but Martin decided to group them all for a couple of reasons.

First, the agency hoped to establish clearer guidelines for interpreting indecency, and thus address one of the industry’s biggest complaints — that FCC indecency decisions are frustratingly inconsistent. “But they were making no headway on that,” a well-placed FCC source says.

Second, Martin felt the commission’s routine of voting on complaints in piecemeal fashion was contributing to the inconsistency. “Better to deal with a large number all at once,” the source says. The hope is to provide a clearer — or less confused — idea of how the FCC under Martin will approach indecency.

The question is: When will commissioners get the package of complaints, vote and publicly release the results? One agency source says possibly within two weeks; another says at least another month.

Also unclear is the extent to which Penny Nance — an anti-porn activist recently brought into the FCC as a part-time indecency czarina — will participate.

As a commissioner, Martin frequently argued for tougher sanctions against indecency. But as an FCC source says, “Arguing as a commissioner and trying to organize policy as a chairman are two different things.”

His hiring of Nance could just be a bone to throw to the anti-indecency watchdogs who supported his becoming chairman.

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