Congress Increases Indecency Fines Tenfold

The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 7, 2006; 6:13 PM

WASHINGTON -- Congress gave notice to broadcasters Wednesday that they will pay dearly for crossing the line with offensive material like Janet Jackson's 2004 Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction," passing legislation that would multiply indecency fines 10 times.

The 379-35 House vote on the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act sends the bill to President Bush for his signature. The bill, which already passed the Senate, increases the top indecency fine the Federal Communications Commission can levy from $32,500 to $325,000 per incident.

Bush said he looked forward to signing the legislation into law. "I believe that government has a responsibility to help strengthen families," he said in a statement. "This legislation will make television and radio more family friendly by allowing the FCC to impose stiffer fines on broadcasters who air obscene or indecent programming."

"This is a victory for children and families," said Senate sponsor Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. The higher fines were needed, he said, "in a world saturated with violent and explicit media."

The measure, given impetus by Jackson's momentary exposure during the Super Bowl halftime show, was an election-year priority of conservative groups.

The Parents Television Council, an aggressive critic of indecency on the public airwaves, praised Congress for listening to Americans "fed up with the sexually raunchy and gratuitously violent content that's broadcast over the public airwaves, particularly during hours when millions of children are in the viewing audience."

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., a chief supporter of the legislation in the House, said the tenfold increase in fines to get "the filth and triple-x smut off the public airwaves" was appropriate when a 30-second commercial aired during this year's Super Bowl cost $2.6 million, or $86,000 a second.

The bill does not apply to cable or satellite broadcasts, which are not included in FCC rules on public broadcasts, and does not try to define what is indecent.

The FCC recently denied a petition of reconsideration from CBS Corp.-owned stations facing $550,000 in fines over the Janet Jackson breast-revealing incident at the 2004 Super Bowl.

Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels may not air obscene material at any time, and may not air indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. when children are more likely to be in the audience.

The FCC says indecent material is that which contains sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.

The legislation, while facing little resistance in Congress, had detractors warning of problems in defining what is indecent and of the erosion of First Amendment rights.

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