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Senate Votes to Raise Indecency Fees

May 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Senate unanimously approved legislation late Thursday night that would raise the cap on Federal Communications Commission indecency fines from $32,500 to $325,000.

The House of Representatives approved legislation last year that would raise the cap to $500,000. Top lawmakers from the Senate and House will iron out the differences between the measures to clear the way for President Bush to sign the higher fees into law.

The Senate version of the legislation — sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. — would only increase the maximum fine the FCC can assess to broadcast radio and TV stations that the agency believes cross the line.

Along with the increasing the cap, the House version includes provisions that would clear the way for the agency to fine on-air talent for infractions — not just the holders of broadcast licenses — and would allow the FCC to revoke the licenses of repeat offenders.

Neither bill extends agency indecency prohibitions to cable or satellite TV, which are exempt from FCC indecency enforcement.

The Senate vote comes as a major victory for the watchdog Parents Television Council, which has argued that the $32,500 maximum fine under existing law is too low to discourage broadcasters from pushing the envelope on off-color programming.

“It’s time that broadcast indecency fines represent a real economic penalty and not just a slap on the wrist,” Sen. Brownback said in a statement after the vote.

Added Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.: “Parents should be able to watch television with their children without worrying about exposing them to unsuitable content.”

But in a statement, TV Watch — an organization founded by major TV networks to fight efforts to crack down on off-color programming — said the vast majority of the public would prefer to decide on their own what to watch on TV.