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Indecency bill passes House after debate over censorship

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting         Feb. 17, 2005    

Indecency bill passes House after debate over censorship

  • Plan to raise fines for broadcasting indecent material easily wins House approval Wednesday despite censorship concerns.

Feb. 17, 2005 — The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005, which would raise the maximum fine to $500,000 per incident for broadcasting material deemed “indecent” by government regulators, overwhelmingly passed the House Wednesday on a 389-38 vote.

House debate centered on whether the bill, introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), amounts to censorship.

“I am increasingly alarmed by the culture of censorship that seems to be developing in this country,” Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on the House floor before Wednesday’s vote.

Sanders, who voted for the 2004 version of a similar bill, said he thought more conservatives should oppose the bill because the conservative position “should be the position of people who say get the government off our backs, we do not want government regulations.”

But representatives supporting the bill stressed that its aim is solely to raise fines, not to censor.

“I think to keep the focus of this bill and this rule, [it] is important for the members to realize that this is something that goes right to the crux of our families,” Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said.

Opponents cited several instances of what they call “self-censorship” — not broadcasting something for fear of indecency fines. Sanders cited cases where ABC affiliates refused to air the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan,” CBS refused to air Super Bowl ads and PBS stations refused to air a Vermont episode of “Postcards with Buster” because the children’s show included lesbian parents.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga..) called it “disingenuous to suggest that we are trying to impose censorship or redefine what has already been well defined in regard to decency.”

The House version now moves to the Senate, where a similar bill has been introduced by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). A similar bill passed the Senate 99-1 last summer, but did not clear the House.

(H.R. 310, S. 193; The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005)AB


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