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Violence on TV in Hollings’ Sights

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

A Senate vote on legislation to crack down on indecent broadcasting was postponed indefinitely last week because Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., wants additional time to promote a provision that would extend the crackdown to TV violence.
The controversial provision-which would regulate TV violence, whether it appears on broadcast, cable or satellite-has come under strong attack from the industry. Even some lawmakers are concerned that the provision, which Sen. Hollings has been promoting for years, is unconstitutional.
Industry sources have also made clear they’ll be encouraging lawmakers to strip out the provision when lawmakers meet in conference to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the indecency bill.
Despite the controversy, the Senate’s Republican leadership was trying to schedule a vote on the Senate bill last week before adjourning for its Easter recess.
But sources said Sen. Hollings wants assurances the provision won’t be stripped out in conference before the Senate votes on the bill on the Senate floor.
“He’s going to press forcefully for this to be included,” a Senate source said.
But a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the Senate can’t bind the hands of the House in conference.
The House version of the indecency legislation, which already has been approved on the House floor, does not include a violence provision, making Sen. Hollings’ provision particularly vulnerable in a conference.
“We cannot make agreements that would predetermine the outcome of a conference,” Sen. Frist’s spokesperson said.
One industry source said it is unlikely that Sen. Hollings will block a vote on the legislation indefinitely. The major provisions in the legislation, which would raise the cap on indecency fines from $27,500 to $500,000, enjoy widespread bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
At any rate, the Senate bill now can’t come up until after the Senate returns from its recess April 19.
Also on the indecency front last week, the Federal Communications Commission fined Clear Channel Communications $495,000 for a Howard Sternradio show April 9, 2003.
The FCC fined the company the maximum $27,500 for each of three off-color references that aired on the six Clear Channel stations that carried Mr. Stern’s program.
In a statement, Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said the fine was particularly important because it represented the first time the agency assessed a levy for each of the off-color references in a broadcast, “rather than counting an entire program as one utterance.”
The decision also established precedent because the complaint had been filed against only one station but the agency moved against the other five Clear Channel stations that aired the show.