Higher Indecency Fines Back in Play

Oct 11, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In a last-ditch effort to raise indecency fines, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., introduced legislation late last Friday that would increase the cap on levies for off-color broadcasts from $32,500 to $500,000.

As of late Thursday evening, it appeared that the legislative effort to raise the cap was dead, at least for the year, after lawmakers decided to delete the increases and other media-related provisions from a major Defense Department bill. But a spokesman said Sen. Brownback planned try to win a vote for the new measure as early as last Friday night.

“Sen. Brownback is very confident that this amendment will be approved and have bipartisan support,” the spokesman said.

Besides raising the cap for individual violations, the other key provisions in the new bill would clear the way for the FCC to fine a group broadcaster up to $3 million for indecencies aired within a 24-hour period and allow the agency to force on-air performers to pay penalties for violations.

Other provisions would direct the FCC to consider a station’s size and financial wherewithal when assessing fines, set timelines for FCC actions on indecency complaints and call for the National Association of Broadcasters to establish a family-viewing policy.

According to Sen. Brownback’s spokesman, co-sponsors of the measure include Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

The effort to raise the cap was on a legislative roller coaster of sorts last week, with Sen. Dorgan blamed for the measure’s deletion from the Pentagon bill Thursday evening.

Senate sources said lawmakers decided to scrap the fines and other media-related provisions that had been added to the Pentagon bill because Sen. Dorgan made clear that he would fight to retain a controversial provision in the package that would bar the FCC from relaxing its media ownership rules.

Sen. Dorgan’s media ownership provision is opposed by House Republican leaders and the White House, so key GOP lawmakers had hoped to limit the amendments in the defense bill to a package of indecency provisions that most legislators support.

“He [Sen. Dorgan] wouldn’t let it go alone,” a source said.

“His selfish actions have undermined months-in fact, years-of progress on this issue,” added L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council.

But Barry Piatt, a spokesman for Sen. Dorgan, said, “If their choice was to protect conglomerates who are buying up everything rather than to protect children from indecency, it’s a pretty poor choice, and they’re the ones who made it.”

Under the amendment Sen. Brownback originally attached to the Pentagon bill in June, the cap on FCC indecency fines would have been raised to $275,000.

But in a behind-the-scenes legislative compromise announced early last week, Senate sources said Sen. Brownback, Sen. Ensign and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, agreed to raise the cap to $500,000.

According to Sen. Brownback’s spokesman, the legislation the lawmaker introduced Friday mirrors the provisions in the GOP compromise.