NAB Board Chief Censures the Censors

Phil Lombardo is mad as h-e-double-toothpicks, and he's not gonna take it anymore. Speaking at a Media Institute event in Washington, D.C., the NAB joint board chairman and CEO of Citadel Communications let fly at the FCC over the way indecency complaints have been handled in the last year. "The FCC's inconsiste
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Phil Lombardo is mad as h-e-double-toothpicks, and he's not gonna take it anymore.

Speaking at a Media Institute event in Washington, D.C., the NAB joint board chairman and CEO of Citadel Communications let fly at the FCC over the way indecency complaints have been handled in the last year.

"The FCC's inconsistent application of indecency rules -- coupled with concern over a small number of what some would call 'tasteless' programs -- has prompted unprecedented anxiety at every level of our business," Lombardo said.

The issue will go to court, "relatively soon," he said.

Broadcast indecency fines increased from $48,000 in 2000 to a record-setting $7.7 million last year, much of it driven by special interest groups, Lombardo said.

"The FCC last year fined Fox and its affiliates $1.2 million for a program that received just 23 complaints," he said. "All but four of those complaints were identical, and only one came from a viewer who claimed to have actually seen the show."

Lombardo also cited an article from Media Week that said more than 99 percent of the post-Janet Jackson indecency complaints last year were generated by the Parents Television Council.

Of 16,000 local radio stations and 1,700 local television stations across the country, Lombardo said the "vast majority" had never been the subject of an indecency complaint. Those stations have nonetheless been driven to censorship under the wavy line drawn by FCC, which initially ruled Bono's use of the f-word benign and then later reversed itself in the heat of the indecency craze. Citadel's three ABC affiliates were among 66 stations that pulled "Saving Private Ryan," because based on the Bono decision, it would have opened Citadel up to $3 million in fines.

Lombardo described other situations where broadcasters shifted into curse-word-first mentality -- during a live eulogy for a fallen Army Ranger when his distraught brother used an expletive; during a tsunami aid telethon, when a participant did likewise.

Meanwhile, cable and satellite are allowed to carry pornography, he said, but he stopped short of asserting that cable networks ought to be subject to the same indecency fines as broadcasters.

"I point it out only to show the inherent inconsistency," he said.

Stations have implemented five-second delay equipment and V-chip compatible ratings systems to help protect folks from words that apparently can only be expressed in schoolyard contractions. All this, and an on-off switch as well would seem to diminish the need for government intervention, Lombardo said.

"My hope is that policymakers ultimately agree that local broadcasters, serving local citizens, are the best arbiters of program choices and are capable of making those decisions with limited government involvement," he said.