Stevens Wants to Delay Indecency Legislation

Mar 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said Monday he wants to put a hold on pending legislation that would beef up the penalties for indecent broadcasts. Sen. Stevens wants to determine whether a new industry-backed educational initiative promoting technology to block offensive TV programming adequately addresses concerns about off-color content.

“That education campaign is just beginning, and it is my hope that members of Congress who are working on this legislation with us will permit that campaign to run for a while to determine whether this education of the public really will result in a better understanding of how to protect children without legislation,” said Sen. Stevens, R-Alaska, in a speech at a conference in San Diego sponsored by the trade group CompTel.

In hopes of pre-empting pending indecency bills, broadcasters and cable and satellite operators have vowed to roll out a major promotional campaign to educate consumers about existing v-chip and other blocking technologies that can keep objectionable programming out of their homes.

Pending legislation would raise the cap on indecency fines from $32,500 to $500,000.

In an interview Tuesday, Jack Valenti, the former Motion Picture Association of America chief who is spearheading the industry initiative, said the messages for the program are currently being designed. Mr. Valenti also said he hopes the public service messages, which are supposed air for a year and a half, will be rolled out within three months. “This is moving at warp speed,” he said.

“We ought to assess the need for such legislation, I think, after the marketplace has worked,” Sen. Stevens said. He also said that the Federal Communications Commission’s recent levying of $4.5 million in indecency fines in a single day, combined with the industry’s educational campaign, could make a case that sticking with the existing law on indecency is the best alternative.

“I fear we could go too far and once again end up with a decision that what we attempt to do is unconstitutional and ruin the progress that we’ve already achieved,” Sen. Stevens said.