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Legislation increasing indecency fines dies, another plan suggested

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Legislation increasing indecency fines dies, another plan suggested

  • A bill to give the Federal Communications Commission authority to raise indecency fines for broadcasters died in Congress last week, but four senators proposed a higher indecency fine increase that could be taken up later this year.

Oct. 14, 2004 — An agreement between federal lawmakers to allow the Federal Communications Commission to increase indecency fines on broadcasters from $32,500 per violation to as much as $275,000 fell apart early this week. Four senators immediately proposed a new bill increasing the fine to $500,000 per violation. Their bill could be considered after the election.

Congress also killed a plan proposed by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) that would have required the FCC to study whether television ratings and the V-chip, which allows parents to block programming, protect children from violence on television. If it found they do not, the FCC would have had to create a “safe harbor” viewing period to prohibit violent content on television when children are likely to be watching.

Under FCC rules, radio and television stations cannot broadcast material that depicts or describes sexual or excretory organs or activities between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be watching. The rules do not cover cable and satellite television and radio stations.

FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell asked Congress to increase the agency’s power to fine broadcasters to deter stations from airing indecent material. Commissioner Michael J. Copps said the current fines are only the “cost of doing business” to billion-dollar conglomerates such as Viacom Inc., The Washington Post reported.

Both houses of Congress voted earlier this year to allow the FCC to raise the fines. The Senate version was attached to the defense authorization bill and included a plan by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) to block the FCC’s controversial new media ownership rules. Dorgan believes the rules, which would let media companies own more local television stations, would allow media companies to grow too big.

Republican negotiators favor the ownership rules — approved by the FCC in June 2003 but returned to the FCC by a federal court for reconsideration in June — and were unwilling to send legislation with Dorgan’s plan to President George W. Bush.

The FCC asked Congress to give it the authority to raise fines following an increase in public and lawmaker complaints over objectionable material on radio and television. The complaints increased after Janet Jackson’s breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl half-time show. The FCC last month fined CBS television stations $550,000 over the incident.

As Republican lawmakers killed the indecency fine legislation, four U.S. senators introduced a bill to raise maximum federal fines against broadcasters to $500,000 per violation with a maximum of $3 million a day.

In addition to Dorgan, Sam Brownback (R-Kan.),Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Sen. John Ensign, (R-Nev.) are sponsoring the new bill, Brownback spokesman Brian Hart told Bloomberg.


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