BOB GARFIELD: The Federal Communication Commission's new hire is likely to please Tony Perkins. On Monday the trade publication Media Week broke the story that the FCC has added Penny Nance to its Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis as an advisor. Todd Shields wrote the Media Week story, and he joins us now. Todd, welcome to the show.
TODD SHIELDS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, who is Penny Nance, and do you have any idea what she was hired to do?
TODD SHIELDS: Well, Penny Nance is an activist for a lot of right wing and Christian causes. She founded a group called Kids First Coalition, which says it works to protect children and invites members to contact Congress on issues such as abortion and pornography. And she's been a board member of a group called Concern Women for America, which describes its mission as helping to bring biblical principles into all levels of public policy. Now at the FCC it seems, although people there won't confirm it directly to me, but it seems as if she'll be advising FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on issues surrounding broadcast and decency, TV and radio alike.
BOB GARFIELD: Todd, now you are in the possession of a letter that Penny Nance, among others, was a signatory to, a letter to President Bush in the early part of the year. Tell me about that.
TODD SHIELDS: The letter was written in January, and it asked President Bush to appoint a new chairman for the FCC who, in the letter's words, "Understands the indecency problem." And the letter called for "repeated and expanded fines, until broadcasters understand they are not above the law."
BOB GARFIELD: Is it unusual for a federal regulatory agency to be hiring people who are clearly advocates for a certain political ideology?
TODD SHIELDS: The FCC says it hires people with this title, special advisors, people with certain expertise, quite often. But there's a difference between possessing some technical expertise that the agency would seek, be it in law or in how gizmos work, and the kind of focus that Penny Nance has had, which is more or less broad-based advocacy.
BOB GARFIELD: Now we have seen, in a variety of regulatory agencies, the hiring of people who, you know, come from a particular ideological bent. And I would say in the Bush Administration the particulars are a Christian religious right political bent. Is there a reason for us to be nervous about these hires, either in the FCC or anywhere else?
TODD SHIELDS: Well, it depends on where you sit. The Republican Party runs all three branches of government in Washington right now, and a big part of their support is the conservative, Christian, family-oriented right wing. So if you lean that way in your politics, you're not concerned, you're encourage that people like Penny Nance are working and helping the FCC devise its policy. If you're a First Amendment lawyer, you're probably a little concerned about this, thinking that producers are going to be trimming their sails for fear of potential FCC finds. So it depends on how you think about those issues.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, what about the sail trimming to date? Have you seen any evidence that Hollywood has been put on notice by this hiring or by any other developments in the Kevin Martin FCC?
TODD SHIELDS: Not the Kevin Martin FCC, per se. In what's gone on over the last year and a half from the FCC, yes. The agency levied nearly eight million dollars in fines in 2004. And that was a big increase from previous years. Now, Martin's not proposed a single fine in his probably about five months now as chairman. And some look at that hiatus in proposing fines and say well, that's because Hollywood's trimmed its sails. It could also be because Martin's getting up to speed. He right now works with two Democrats and two Republicans, including himself, on the Commission. The White House hasn't appointed the members that need to be on that to have a full five-member Commission. And it would give Martin a three to two Republican majority, which is traditional. So whether the absence of fines means Hollywood's trimming its sails or Martin's still getting up to speed, we'll have to see.
BOB GARFIELD: What's your sense? Do you think this is the calm before the storm?
TODD SHIELDS: Yeah, I think it is. I think that sooner or later the enforcement bureau's going to come up with a batch of complaints. And we still have waiting from last year the final adjudication of some of the big well-noticed proposed fines, including the 550,000 dollars in proposed fines for the famous Super Bowl incident. The network, CBS, and its owner, Viacom, have ask the FCC to reconsider its decision to levy that fine. So Kevin Martin needs to make a decision on that. And I can't imagine he'll say oh, we were just kidding, there will be no fine. So all these should be coming up in coming months, I would think.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well Todd, thank you so much.
TODD SHIELDS: Thank you. (MUSIC UP AND UNDER)
BOB GARFIELD: Todd Shields is the Washington correspondent for Media Week. (MUSIC)