Saturday, April 16, 2005

Think of the CHILDREN!

The things you learn about your locality, from the strangest sources. I just learned, via BookSlut, that Buffalo's Channel 7 used to use its secondary audio feed to carry periodicals and books, read for the blind by volunteers. Key word: used to. As the news article reads:

That was until earlier this year when one listener complained about a word heard during the reading of Tom Wolfe's new novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons."

Even though such fare was read only after 10 p.m., Channel 7 officials -- fearing the prospect, the expense, the ordeal or the uncertainty of an FCC indecency investigation -- dropped the service. Several weeks later, according to The Buffalo News, limited service returned -- but no programming at all between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

This is something that I've noticed for a while, but haven't thought about how to put into words, and I'm still not entirely sure about it -- but it seems to me that we have, in some way, allowed a single complaint to outweigh the satisfaction of far more people who are satisfied. This manifested all the time when I was working in the restaurant business. At my Pizza Hut, we had a family of regular "customers" who would come in oh, once a month or so, and they were unbelievably disruptive when they did. Their three young children -- all of apparent ages within two years of each other -- would scream incessantly; they would literally complain about everything about their experience from start to finish; and so on. And yet, we couldn't ask them to not come in any more, because the corporate mindset was that a customer complaint is to be avoided at all costs. (Never mind the complaints from the other customers whose experiences were disrupted by these people.) Losing the business of this family was considered unacceptable.

What does this have to do with the blind-reading service above? It seems to me that the "One complaint is all it takes" attitude has been adopted by those who would see censorship take hold:

It is the censor's perfect formula: One word plus one complaint plus one calculation equals millions of words for an audience of thousands wiped from existence.

One person was offended by a single word, and therefore blind people in range of Channel 7's audio feed are deprived of a valuable service. And in this case, it didn't even require government intervention: Channel 7 pulled its own plug. I'd call that de facto censorship, in a time when the FCC is basically casting itself as the mobster: "Nice little TV station ya's got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it."

In the article linked above, I also see a pretty stunning quote from one of our elected representatives. It seems that Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), recently had this to say to cable executives on the subject of promoting "decency" on the airwaves:

I'd prefer using the criminal process rather than the regulatory process.

Say what we don't want you to say, and you'll go to jail. That's a powerful Congressman's take on "decency".

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