By Ira Teinowitz
Declaring that broadcast programming “has too often pushed the bounds of decency,” President Bush today signed into law legislation raising by tenfold fines for broadcast indecency and urged broadcasters to take more care with regard to content.
“Parents are the first line of defense. But broadcasters and the electronics industry must play a valuable role in protecting our children from obscene and indecent programming,” Mr. Bush said during a White House ceremony.
The legislation Mr. Bush signed increases the maximum indecency fine the Federal Communications Commission can impose on a station to $325,000, up from $32,500, with a $3 million maximum for an incident seen on multiple stations.
Mr. Bush said parents certainly have a role and that TV sets have an on/off switch for a reason, but that broadcasters haven’t done enough.
“Broadcasters have the duty to respect common decency, to take into account the public interest, and to keep the public airwaves free of indecent material, especially during the hours when children are most likely to be watching and listening,” he said.
“Unfortunately, in recent years broadcast programming has too often pushed the bounds of decency. One study found that, during the hours between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.-the time when most families are watching television-the use of profanity on television shows increased 95 percent from 1998 to 2002.
Mr. Bush called the development “a bad trend.” “It’s a bad sign,” he added.
Noting that FCC indecency complaints since 2000 have increased from hundreds per year to thousands, he suggested that “People are saying, ‘We’re tired of it and we expect … the government to do something about it.'”
He said the previous $32,500 fine wasn’t high enough.
“For some broadcasters, this amount-it’s like meaningless. It’s relatively painless for them when they violate the decency standards.
“By allowing the FCC to levy stiffer and more meaningful fines, this law will ensure that broadcasters take seriously their duty to keep the public airwaves free of obscene, profane and indecent material,” the president said. “American families expect and deserve nothing less. We must ensure that decency standards for broadcasters are effectively enforced.”
As expected, proponents of the higher fines immediately praised the legislation.
“Families across America are fed up with the sexually raunchy and gratuitously violent content that’s broadcast over the public airwaves, particularly during hours when millions of children are in the viewing audience,” said L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council. “The networks must have a significant financial penalty for violating the indecency law and the public trust. We hope that the hefty fines will cause the multibillion-dollar broadcast networks finally to take the law seriously.”
The National Association of Broadcasters in a statement said it is unfair to regulate broadcast TV and not other distribution platforms. “In issues related to programming content, NAB believes responsible self-regulation is preferable to government regulation. If there is regulation, it should be applied equally to cable and satellite TV, and satellite radio.”
The impact of the new fines will likely depend on court cases either already filed or about to be filed challenging recent FCC indecency fines.