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FCC Chairman seeks to overturn indecency ruling, raise fines

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

FCC Chairman seeks to overturn indecency ruling, raise fines

  • FCC Chairman Michael Powell urged fellow FCC commissioners Tuesday to overturn one of their previous decisions, that an expletive uttered at last January’s “Golden Globe Awards” show was not indecent.

Jan. 16, 2004 — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, under fire from family advocacy groups and politicians, asked his fellow commissioners Tuesday to overturn a ruling he authorized on the use of an expletive.

The proposal in an internal document prepared by the staff, and it is now circulating among the four commissioners, according to a spokeswoman for the FCC enforcement bureau.

Upon receiving an honor at last January’s “Golden Globe Awards” show — aired live on NBC — U2 lead singer Bono told the audience, “This is really, really fucking brilliant.” The commission ruled in October that the phrase was not indecent because Bono had used it in a benign context, to emphasize a declaration.

In response to that ruling, Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) proposed a bill in Congress last month that calls for the complete banishment of eight specific expletives from all TV and radio broadcasts.

The American Family Association, a non-profit, family values advocacy group located in Tupelo, Miss., has also fervently campaigned against the FCC’s ruling. The association spearheaded an e-mail campaign that sent more than one million messages to the commission, according to its Web site,

“Shock jocks such as Howard Stern are now free to use any language, no matter how vile and repugnant, on their radio shows,” American Family Association Chairman Donald E. Wildmon said shortly after the ruling. “And use it they will.”

In addition to his request that the ruling be overturned — two of the four remaining commissioners must agree for that action to be approved — Powell proposed that the word “fuck” be banned from TV and radio broadcasts in almost all situations. The use of the word during political activity is the one exception to Powell’s proposal; indecency rules do not apply to political speech.

The current maximum fine for indecent speech on air while children are likely to be in the audience is $27,500. Powell told reporters that he would like to increase those fines ten-fold, to $275,000, following his speech at the National Press Club.


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