House Committee Votes Massive Indecency Fine Increase
March 4, 2004
Members of the House Commerce Committee made two big changes to the election year indecency bill passed to the full House; they raised the fines by 20, not 10 times the current amount and they included a provision to fine on-air talent. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., passed 49 to 1.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), said passage of the bill is a statement that "enough is enough. Personal responsibility is as important a freedom as free speech. America's responsible parents seek to raise their children with a strong sense of responsibility for their actions -- why should performers be excluded from this expectation? We are not going to accept indecent, irresponsible material on the public airwaves anymore. If performers or broadcasters choose to play with regulators by behaving obscenely during a public broadcast, we can see that they pay for their conduct."
Rep. Upton has said he hopes the measure, which has the backing of the administration and 142 co-sponsors, would be on the President's desk by the end of the month. The Senate Commerce Committee is said to be crafting its own indecency bill.
The original bill called for the FCC fines for broadcast indecency to rise tenfold, to $275,000. Now, the measure calls for a fine of $500,000 per violation. The measure requires the commission to hold a license revocation hearing for after three violations for broadcast indecency. The bill establishes a 180-day time period for the agency to make a decision for a broadcast indecency case. There is no set time period to wrap up a case now. Maximum fines for "nonlicensees" (performers) would be raised from $11,000 to $500,000.
In addition, non-network owned affiliates would not be liable for fines for indecent content in live programming or scripted programming over which they have no control. The amount of fines will be determined by market size and ability to pay.
NAB, which opposes the bill, said politicians should let the industry regulate itself.
"NAB believes that voluntary industry initiatives are far preferable to government regulation when dealing with programming issues," NAB president Eddie Fritts said in a statement. "NAB does not support the bill as written, but we hear the call of legislators and are committed to taking voluntary action to address this issue."
Meanwhile, the cable industry stepped up its efforts to avoid being caught in the indecency crossfire by unveiling a comprehensive new public relations effort called "Cable Puts You in Control." The consumer outreach campaign is designed to increase awareness about tools and resources cable provides, so that families can better monitor programming according to NCTA, the cable industry's lobbying arm.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell and Congressional leaders, NCTA president Robert Sachs detailed the initiative and outlined the effort, which includes PSAs, a Web site, customer communications tool kit and media literacy workshops conducted by Cable in the Classroom and the National PTA.
"The cable industry takes seriously your challenge and its responsibility to help protect children from indecent and unnecessarily violent TV programming," Sachs wrote. "We believe these steps will help cable customers identify the wide array of programming options from which their families can choose and the many tools available to help them be responsible television viewers."