Imminent replacements at FCC could impact television content, "pro-family" leaders say

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WASHINGTON (Baptist Press News)--Hoping to increase the enforcement of television indecency laws -- thus lessening the amount of offensive programming -- pro-family leaders are encouraging President Bush to nominate a traditionally minded person to replace outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell.

Bush will nominate a person to replace Powell on the five-person commission and also will designate one of the five commissioners to serve as chairman. Some social conservatives are promoting current Commissioner Kevin Martin -- considered a friend to traditionalists -- as chairman. Powell plans to leave in March.

Commissioners are appointed for five-year terms by the president and confirmed by the Senate. In recent years the FCC has been criticized for failing to enforce laws limiting objectionable content -- such as obscene language and sexually explicit material -- on broadcast TV and radio. It was involved in several high-profile cases last year, including one in which Viacom and CBS stations were fined $550,000 for the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl controversy.

Tony Perkins, president of the pro-family group Family Research Council, sent an "action alert" e-mail to subscribers Feb. 8, encouraging them to call the White House.

"The FCC only began to seriously enforce the law after singer Janet Jackson's Super Bowl 'wardrobe malfunction' a year ago," he wrote in the e-mail. "Since then, its enforcement record has been spotty at best, with some tough enforcement followed by very disappointing rulings on indecency."

It's possible that in addition to Powell, Bush will replace at least one more commissioner this year, Kathleen Abernathy, whose term expired last year but was extended. She has said privately that she wants to leave this year, The Washington Post reported.

"The FCC is only a five-member commission. So you can imagine how crucial these two appointments will be," Perkins wrote. "If President Bush appoints a strong chairman and a public-minded second commissioner, things will finally change.

"This is an historic opportunity and one that the FRC team won't let slip away. I have been working on this for some time, making calls and sending letters to key U.S. Senators and Congressmen urging them to let President Bush know we want appointments to the FCC who will enforce indecency law. I have weighed in at the White House also."

The Federal Communications Commission will have greater enforcement power in the near future if a bill making its way through Congress passes. A House committee approved a bill Feb. 9 that would increase fines from $32,500 per incident to as much as $500,000. A similar version in the Senate would raise the fines to $325,000 per incident, The New York Times reported.

Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, wants to see Martin replace Powell.

"American families deserve more from the FCC in protecting our children from overtly indecent content,� Bozell said in a statement. "Chairman Powell�s departure gives President Bush an opportunity to appoint a Chairman who actually believes in and who will enforce the federal laws regarding broadcast indecency."

Both Perkins and Bozell said Powell hasn't done enough to enforce current laws. Perkins said that some commissioners, including Powell "have been unwilling to enforce indecency law in a consistent manner."

"[I]n the final days before the president will decide, I believe he needs to hear from you," Perkins wrote, addressing his readers. "The president is listening to pro-family America because he knows what a crucial difference you made in his election."