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Fighting Indecency, One Bleep at a Time

The FCC concerns itself with indecency on broadcast television only, not cable. But the PTC cares what's on TBS and FX because roughly 70 percent of American households now have basic cable (85 percent if you include those with access to the same programming via satellite) and a majority of American kids have TVs in their bedrooms. Also, when cable shows break taboos, broadcast television tends to follow suit.

FX is one of News Corp.'s increasingly profitable cable properties.

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This is where the difficult question of Rupert Murdoch comes in.

Right and Wrong

Mention the Murdoch Problem to Brent Bozell and he laughs, hard and long. Then he mimes banging his red-bearded head on his desk.

"Oh boy, oh boy," he says. "Wearing my Media Research Center hat, I'm thrilled with what he's doing with Fox News. Wearing my PTC hat, I'm stunned by what he's done with Fox entertainment."

He's never met Murdoch, Bozell says. "But those who know him have told me that he makes no bones about it" -- meaning why he backs "Nip/Tuck" and other shows the PTC finds offensive. "He does it to make money."

Um -- this is bad?

The question is problematic for a man whose responsibilities include overseeing the MRC's Free Market Project. The FMP, which seeks to defend the free enterprise system from alleged liberal slurs, "has nothing to do with the Parents Television Council," Bozell says -- though for him, there's clearly some cognitive dissonance involved.

But the dissonance isn't just within Bozell's modest empire. It's within the conservative movement as a whole.

"It's interesting to see the conservatives split," says Tim Winter, the PTC executive director, by which he means "social conservatism versus business and corporate conservatism."

"The media industry is run as a pure, free-market oligopoly," says James Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, a rapidly growing, politically neutral San Francisco-based group that shares many of the PTC's concerns about kid-unfriendly programming and which also rates shows for parents. "And in a pure, free-market, social Darwinistic world, kids lose every time."

Steyer once ran an educational media company himself. What he learned was that "media companies make money in the cheapest way they know," and with no public voice or government leadership to counter this impulse, the result is "sex and violence and gross commercialism."

In other words: "It's the economics, stupid."

A question, then. If you're up against the profit-driven News Corps. of the world, with the unfettering of American business high on the Washington agenda, who do you think is going to win? Hint: After 10 years, the PTC does not claim to have driven any shows it has protested off the air.

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