Martin explains indecency

FCC topper defends ruling

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin on Friday defended the agency’s recent package of indecency rulings against criticisms of vagueness and inconsistency.

Speaking at his first press conference since taking office a year ago, Martin said the decisions should provide broadcasters with more clarity than ever before regarding what will and will not violate FCC indecency standards.

“The commission has released a significant set of orders saying that we got thousands of complaints dealing with these number of shows,” Martin told reporters. “These are the ones that we thought were problematical or inappropriate, and these are the ones that we said didn’t violate our rules, and I think that was more guidance than there was before the orders.”

When the agency released the orders last Wednesday, Jonathan Rintels, exec director of the industry coalition Center for Creative Voices in Media, said the rules “are vague, arbitrary, insufficiently attuned to the context and quality of the program and bear no relation to ‘contemporary community standards,’ as the commission’s own rules require. They substitute the commissioners’ creative and artistic choices for those made by media artists.”

Asked to explain, for example, why the FCC did not fine broadcasters for airing “Saving Private Ryan,” which had repeated use of the word “fuck” in it, but did fine stations airing PBS docu “The Blues,” which had same, Martin replied: “The context is the important thing. We look at how integral the words are, how easy it could’ve been to have the same effect without using those words.”

On the question of whether indecency should be a matter handled by local and state authorities, who could better understand community standards, Martin said, “That’s a question for Congress.”

Meanwhile, Robert McDowell, President Bush’s pick to fill the remaining vacant FCC commissioner seat, has received a thumbs-up from the Senate Commerce Committee, which approved his nomination Thursday.

A unanimous voice vote from the committee reflected the bipartisan support given him during his confirmation hearing earlier this month. The nomination now goes for a full Senate vote, not yet skedded.

Final approval will give FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin a 3-2 GOP majority for the first time.