President Bush signs into law tenfold increase in fines for broadcast indecency

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WASHINGTON — Broadcasters who transgress the federal government's indecency standards now will have to pay as much as $325,000 per violation.

President Bush signed into law June 15 legislation increasing by tenfold the maximum fine for indecency on television and radio. The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act increases the maximum fine that can be levied by the Federal Communications Commission from $32,500 to $325,000.

During the signing ceremony at the White House, Bush commended Congress for sending legislation to him that will "help American parents by making broadcast television and radio more family friendly."

"Parents are the first line of defense [in supervising what children watch and listen to], but broadcasters and the electronics industry must play a valuable role in protecting our children from obscene and indecent programming," the president told an audience that included pro-family advocates and members of Congress. "Unfortunately, in recent years, broadcast programming has too often pushed the bounds of decency."

Indecency complaints to the FCC have grown "from just hundreds per year to hundreds of thousands" since 2000, Bush said. "In other words, people are saying, 'We're tired of it, and we expect the government to do something about it.'"

A maximum fine of $32,500 "is meaningless" for some broadcasters, Bush said. "It's relatively painless for them when they violate decency standards. By allowing the FCC to levy stiffer and more meaningful fines on broadcasters who violate decency standards, this law will ensure that broadcasters take seriously their duty to keep the public airwaves free of obscene, profane and indecent material."

Supporters of the legislation hailed the law's enactment as an important victory in the effort to reduce broadcast indecency.

"Hopefully, the media giants will hear the message loud and clear -- the American people own the public airwaves and have a right to reclaim a greater sense of decency and control over the airwaves," Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said in a written statement. "No longer will indecency fines be viewed as an irrelevant cost of doing business."

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said in a written release there is now "a means to hold [irresponsible broadcasters] accountable. A powerful tool at parents' disposal to protect their kids is a direct line to the FCC to get broadcasters where it counts — in the pocketbook."

The House of Representatives passed the bill June 7 in a 379-35 vote. The Senate had approved the same measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., in May.

House sponsors decided to act on the Senate bill rather than seek to work out a compromise between a more stringent version they gained passage of last year and the other chamber's measure. The House bill, approved in a 389-38 vote in February 2005, would have increased the maximum fine per violation to $500,000 and required a license revocation hearing for a station after a third violation. Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Mich., sponsored the House version and handled the Senate bill in his chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee used a parliamentary maneuver to gain the bill's passage in his chamber after it appeared the measure might remain stuck in the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The procedure enabled Frist to bring the proposal directly to the Senate floor without committee approval. No senator objected to the bill, so it passed by unanimous consent.

Pro-family organizations have long criticized the sexual content, plus obscene and profane language, on prime-time television. The 2004 Super Bowl halftime show pushed the issue into the national spotlight and motivated Congress to take action. Janet Jackson's exposure on national TV capped a controversial show and brought a deluge of criticism from many Americans, including legislators and the FCC.

In 2004, both houses overwhelmingly approved bills increasing indecency fines, but differences could not be worked out, causing them to die when Congress adjourned.

The legislation does not directly affect cable or satellite programming. The FCC is able to regulate only broadcast radio and television. On TV, that includes such networks as ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.


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