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House Committee approves $500,000 fines for indecency

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

House Committee approves $500,000 fines for indecency

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a sizable penalty increase for broadcast indecency, that would up fines to half a million dollars.

March 3, 2004 — The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill today that would increase the maximum penalty for broadcast indecency from $27,500 to $500,000.

The penalty hike was a substantial increase from the amount agreed upon by the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet last month. The subcommittee had approved a 10-fold increase, to $275,000.

The Energy and Commerce Committee agreed upon language in the new bill, known as the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, 49-1, and set no maximum total fine. Three violations would also prompt a hearing by the Federal Communications Commission, which could lead to the revocation of a station’s broadcast license.

“We have forged what I believe is a bill that will protect young people from indecency and deter companies from pushing the envelope of appropriate broadcasting,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the bill’s sponsor, told Reuters.

Recent congressional activity has already caught the attention of broadcasters nationwide.

Emmis Communications, the seventh-largest radio group in the U.S., yesterday announced a new “zero tolerance” policy toward broadcast indecency. Company spokesperson Kate Healey said disciplinary action — which may include termination — will be taken against any employee who violates the nation’s broadcast indecency rules.

Employees were notified of the new policy yesterday through a company-wide conference call. The old policy, Healey said, involved a lengthy review process before disciplinary action was taken.

Clear Channel Communications announced a similar zero-tolerance policy last week, then acted on it. The company fired controversial Florida disc jockey Todd Clem, known as “Bubba the Love Sponge,” and suspended the “Howard Stern Show” from six of its affiliates.

Clear Channel President John Hogan announced the company’s new policy last week at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Other major broadcasting companies followed suit.

In a speech yesterday to the National Association of Broadcasters, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said Congress will take any measure it deems necessary to prevent indecent broadcasting.

“My message to every broadcaster in the industry is this: the status quo will not stand,” DeLay said. “If the entertainment industry cannot pull itself together and stay within some boundaries of decency, Congress will have no choice but to step in.”

(H.R. 3717) LH

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