House Raises Cap on Indecency Fines

Feb 16, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to dramatically raise the financial stakes for off-color broadcasting, the House of Representatives voted 389-38 on Wednesday to raise the cap on Federal Communications Commission indecency fines from $32,500

to $500,000.

The legislation, which largely mirrors a bill that was approved by the House last year in a 391-22 vote, makes on-air talent and performers, not only station licensees, subject to the fines. In addition, the measure includes a three-strikes-and-you’re-out provision that puts in jeopardy the broadcast licenses of stations with three indecency violations.

Yet another provision in the bill would require the FCC to act on indecency complaints within 180 days. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who has been leading the House effort against indecency, recently said the bill was needed to ensure that the FCC has “adequate authority to enforce the law” barring off-color broadcasts between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be in the audience.

In a statement before today’s vote, however, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said people already can protect themselves by switching the channel from offensive programming or turning off their TV sets. “I recommend that everyone buy [a remote control] and learn how to use it,” Rep. Nadler said.

With the House vote, the legislative action now shifts to the Senate, where a bill that would raise the cap on indecency fines to $325,000 is pending. “It will be one of the first things on our agenda, no question about that,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, in an interview with TelevisionWeek on Tuesday.

The Hollywood watchdog group Center for Creative Voices in Media said of the House bill, “The exponential increase in indecency fines for broadcasters and the application of those fines to performers on their first offense will turn the chill that has already descended over our nation’s media into a deep freeze.”