Broadcasters rally against indecency legislation

The latest bill would reaffirm the FCC’s authority to fine licensed broadcast stations for fleeting utterances of profanity.
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Broadcasters have vowed to fight new indecency legislation proposed by Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-WV.

The Senate Commerce Committee recently approved the latest bill, which would reaffirm the FCC’s authority to fine licensed broadcast stations for fleeting mentions of profanity or unscripted displays of sexual images.

The passage came through a voice vote. However, lobbyists told the “National Journal” that some committee members who privately raised concerns about the bill did not object during the session, apparently nervous about being accused of endorsing profanity.

Rockefeller drafted the legislation in response to a federal appeals court decision earlier this summer that overturned FCC penalties for uses of expletives by entertainers on Fox during a live awards ceremony.

Rockefeller, the “Journal” reported, is seeking Senate passage before the August recess. He wants to bolster a possible FCC appeal of that decision to the Supreme Court. He also wants to influence September oral arguments before a Philadelphia federal court on CBS’ challenge of FCC fines levied for the exposure of singer Janet Jackson’s breast during a Super Bowl halftime show.

Rockefeller’s bill, however, has broadcasters and the American Civil Liberties Union concerned about wider ramifications. “The First Amendment says that the government should not be controlling speech,” Marv Johnson, legislative counsel for the ACLU, told the “Journal.”

NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said enactment of the bill would make it easier for the FCC to ban broadcasts of acclaimed programming. “The notion that broadcasters are clamoring to drop f-bombs and s-words in our programming is simply false,” Wharton said.