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House Commerce Committee boosts indecency fines

The cultural war over broadcast indecency has carried over into the new Congress. Legislation to raise fines on broadcast stations and individuals for violating broadcast indecency rules to as much as $500,000 per incident won approval last week in a 46-2 vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill would also require the FCC to consider revoking a station's license if it violates indecency rules three times. The current maximum fine is $32,500 per violation. The fine for an on-air performer would jump from $11,000 to $500,000. A current FCC regulation that requires an individual to first receive a warning would be abolished.

Voting against the legislation was Reps. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). Waxman had voted for similar legislation in the last Congress but changed his vote last week expressing concern that indecency efforts were having a chilling effect on broadcasters. As an example, he noted the cancellation of the motion picture, “Saving Private Ryan,” by ABC affiliates fearing they’d be fined by the FCC.

Schakowsky vowed to fight Congressional efforts to weaken the First Amendment. She said the legislation fails to address the major concern of citizens across the country who believe that there is a direct correlation between media consolidation and the increasing number of objectionable materials on the air.

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