Censorship by tyranny of the few
November 14, 2004
BUZZ MACHINE -- Jeff Jarvis has posted the results of a Freedom of Information request he completed in the US concernign the FCC. He calls it "Censorship by the tyranny of the few". That is, only three people brought down a nationwide show by objecting to its content.
With not much original reporting, I discovered that the latest big fine by the FCC against a TV network -- a record $1.2 million against Fox for its "sexually suggestive" Married by America -- was brought about by a mere three people who actually composed letters of complaint. Yes, just three people.
I filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Oct. 12 asking to see all of the 159 complaints the FCC cited in its complaint against Fox.
I just received the FCC's reply with a copy of all the complaints -- and a letter explaining that, well, there weren't 159 after all. William H. Davenport, chief of the FCC's Investigations and Hearings Divison, admits in his letter that because the complaints were sent to multiple individuals at the FCC, it turns out there actually were only 90 complaints. It gets better: The FCC confesses that they come from only 23 individuals.
It is shocking enough that what tens of millions of us are permitted to see by our government can be determined by 159 ... or 90 ... or 23.
But it gets even better: I examined the complaints and found that all but two of them were virtually identical. In other words, one person took the time to write a letter and 20 other people then photocopied or merely emailed it to the FCC many times. They all came from an automated complaint factory like the one I write about here. Only two letters were not the form letter.
So in the end, that means that a grand total of three citizens bothered to take the time to sit down and actually write a letter of complaint to the FCC. Millions of people watched the show. Three wrote letters of complaint.
And on the basis of that, the FCC decided to bring down the heavy hammer of government censorship and fine Fox an incredible $1.2 million for suggesting -- not depicting but merely suggesting -- sex on a show that had already been canceled because the marketplace didn't like it anyway.
This is the respect the FCC gives to the American people and our First Amendment.
Jeff Jarvis -- "FCC Censorship"