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Examining the FCC's Complaint-Driven Broadcast Indecency Enforcement Process

12 Pages Posted: 10 May 2007  

Adam D. Thierer

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: November 9, 2005


The FCC in recent years has increased its fines for broadcast indecency and has cited rising complaints as a reason. However, upwards of 99% of the broadcast indecency complaints received by the FCC have come from campaigns generated by a single advocacy group. Moreover these totals have been inflated by two recent changes in methodology by the agency, changes not made to other complaints received on topics as disparate as cable rates and spectrum interference.

In so doing, it permits a process whereby indecency complaints appear to be artificially inflated relative to other types of complaints. Journalists, policy makers, social scientists, and others should weigh this disparate treatment when considering the significance of the reported figures.

Keywords: Federal Communications Commission, FCC, Broadcast Indecency, broadcast content, indecency complaints, Parents Television Council, PTC, broadcast regulation, wardrobe malfunction, broadcast programming, indecency fines, FCC complaints, indecency complaints, censorship, media regulation, indecency

JEL Classification: D18, L82, L5, L50, L59, O38

Suggested Citation

Thierer, Adam D., Examining the FCC's Complaint-Driven Broadcast Indecency Enforcement Process (November 9, 2005). Progress & Freedom Foundation Progress on Point Paper No. 12.22. Available at SSRN: or

Adam D. Thierer (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3351 Fairfax Drive
4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201-4433
United States

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