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Janet Jackson Can Show You SOmething : About Activism

You have got to love Janet Jackson and Hollywood (for the Janet recap and photos visit Drudge) . In the middle of a war and in the midst of an economic slump, JJ has motivated hundreds of politicians to take action on a long dead issue. She has also demonstrated the power of media trigger events to shape political culture and shape political agendas. There are lessons to be learned from her wardrobe malfunction and gay marriage. These issues have dominated 3-4 weeks of news and set tone for upcoming larger issue debates. I predict that 99% of the groups fundraising did not plan for these events and not 1 foundation staffer could have suggested that these would be the dominate issues of Q1 2004. Who thinks they know the issues that are going to define the summer? (Fall will be the election) How about next winter?

The Jackson event is another amazing example of the new "tempo" of American politics. Although legislation has been proposed for many years to increase control of the airwaves, weaken the hold of networks on local content and stiffen penalties on media companies for offensive breaches used to promote product or ratings, the legislation did not move (until January 21, 2004 - Day after the Super Bowl).

H.R.3717 a Bill to increase the penalties for violations by television and radio broadcasters of the prohibitions against transmissions of obscene, indecent, and profane material, and for other purposes. The Bill picked up 145 sponsors and launched with a similar Bill in the Senate. Expect it to be law in the weeks ahead.

What happened? What are the lessons you need to consider?

"I knew immediately it would cause great outrage among the American people, which it did," he said, citing "thousands" of complaints received by Monday morning. "We have a very angry public on our hands." Powell said MTV and the CBS network's more than 200 affiliates and company-owned stations could be fined $27,500 apiece. He said he would like to see the enforcement penalties strengthened to 10 times their current amount.

Janet's "show" generated 200,000 complaints! In an interesting follow up to the policy implications check out the follow up story with Bill Moyers.

I have grabbed some great quotes from the committees from the Now site below.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA): "The paltry fines that the FCC assesses have become nothing more than a joke. They have become simply the cost of doing business for far too many licensees particularly in the radio marketplace. Many stations regard the prospect of a fine as merely the potential slap on the wrist.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell: "The time has come for us to work collectively-the Commission, the Congress, the industry and the public to take the necessary steps to prevent allowing the worst that television has to offer from reaching our unsuspecting children. I commit to you that this Commission will continue to put our resources into vigorously enforcing our indecency rules. I urge Congress to assist us in these efforts and urge the industry to do its part to protect our nation's children."

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI): "Indecent and obscene programming on TV and radio are becoming the norm rather than the exception. And local communities and local broadcasters are losing their power to tell the big media conglomerates no. Was the impact of consolidation on indecency ever considered by the FCC before it issued it rules and before the Administration forced greater consolidation on the American people?"

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps: "I pleaded before we voted on media consolidation last June 2nd, we owe it to our children, let's look to see if there's a connection between the rising tide of consolidation and the rising tide of media indecency. And we did not do that, and I think it was a disservice to our kids."

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein: "Just today we heard about Comcast trying to swallow Disney. So it's swallow or be swallowed. How do you avoid being swallowed? You get your stock price up so you can swallow somebody else. How do you do that? It's quarterly results. You have to make as much money as you can every quarter. How do you do that? If it takes pandering, if it takes crassness, if it takes making people eat worms on TV, if it means having people dance in lewd ways, whatever it takes, apparently, these broadcasters are willing to do it. So, there may well be a connection there."

These are just another example how the tigger events let loose the controls of the agenda and debate and give rise to unlikely allies and new opportunities that will only exist in the midst of the chaos. We have always had a movement that is prepared to direct people toward meaningful change. However, we need to retool and restructure our advocacy efforts so that they can keep pace with the tempo of the American Debate. We will need to build the network capacity to respond to media trigger events and we need to accept new models of engagement.