EW explains how the FCC monitors ''decency.'' Whether it's one person or 1,000, the FCC considers all complaints

By Josh Wolk
Updated September 02, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
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If the FCC ever lands jurisdiction over cable, its bureau won’t have to watch 24 hours a day of MTV, waiting to bust a threesome. The commission doesn’t monitor the airwaves, it simply considers and investigates complaints by viewers regarding indecency, which can result in steep fines. CBS stations were fined a total $550,000 for the Jackson incident, but so far there have been no penalties this year: The FCC has ruled on 41 shows, including Arrested Development and Will & Grace, and not one of them was deemed indecent. (It’s worth noting that indecency rules don’t apply to the broadcast nets from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., which is considered safe harbor.) Though activist groups like the PTC rally followers on their websites to file mass complaints, FCC spokesman David Fiske says the number of filings against a show is irrelevant. ”A write-in campaign using the Internet is not treated any differently than one or two people sending in a handwritten complaint,” he says. ”We don’t do polling.”

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