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Why Are Complaints About Broadcast Smut Down?


Last year, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, which oversees American TV and radio, received 233,000 consumer complaints about indecency and obscenity on the air. What's remarkable is that this was a whopping 84 percent FEWER complaints than the agency got in 2004.

Is smut so much a part of TV and radio programming that people don't notice it any more? Or is there less of it to complain about? Here's what industry analysts are saying:

2004 was the year of the infamous Super Bowl football broadcast, in which singers Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson sang a suggestive song during which one of Ms. Jackson's breasts was exposed. For a lot of Americans, including organized parents' groups, that was the last straw -- the bellwether event that proved the moral decay of broadcast media.

More than 200,000 protests poured into the FCC about that incident alone. And in those days, syndicated radio disc jockeys were skirting, and sometimes crossing, the fine line between suggestive banter and raunchiness.

Since then, the Super Bowl has reverted to tamer entertainment. The most provocative national DJs have moved to adult-oriented satellite radio. The FCC has slapped broadcast networks and stations with fines for offensive programming. Several on-air personalities who rely on ribald material have been fired. Parents are learning how to block stations they don't want their children to see. And networks now employ what's called a "dump button" that erases offensive language and gestures, even on live broadcasts, before viewers can see them.

These aren't the innocent old days when shows about heroic dogs and wholesome families filled the air. But TV and radio have been chastened enough that an 84 percent drop in indecency complaints makes sense.

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