Senate Fast-Tracks Indecency Bill

Jul 12, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Senators today rejected one attempt to overturn the impact of a court ruling taking away the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to regulate “fleeting expletives” on broadcast TV, only to put a second one on the fast track for legislative passage.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced bipartisan legislation and Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, immediately set it for a committee vote next Thursday and said he would support it.
“It’s important we should have airwaves that are clean enough for kids to listen to,” said Sen. Inouye.
Sen. Rockefeller’s legislation would require the FCC to “maintain a policy that a single word or image may constitute indecent programming.’’ It makes no mention of regulating TV violence or cable, both subjects Sen. Rockefeller has often discussed. Aides suggested the limited scope of the legislation was intended to get it passed quickly.
The legislation threatens the big win broadcasters got when a divided appellate court ruled in June that the FCC hadn’t adequately justified a change in its longtime policy for regulating TV indecency and ordered a closer look at “fleeting expletives.”
The court ruling overturned an FCC finding that Fox Television Stations overstepped indecency rules in airing comments by Nicole Richie and Cher during live broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards shows in 2002 and 2003. The court also questioned the FCC’s finding that comments Bono made on a 2003 Golden Globes Award show were indecent.
The Justice Department has to decide shortly whether to appeal the decision to the whole panel of judges of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York or to the Supreme Court. Senators said today that they were hopeful legislation would bolster any such appeal.
A second court case involving the FCC’s fining of CBS stations for the Janet Jackson 2004 Super Bowl half-time incident is slated for oral arguments in September in an appellate court in Philadelphia.
Broadcasters made no immediate comment on today’s developments, but have contended the FCC’s policy violates First Amendment free speech and conflicts with a number of Supreme Court rulings.
Announcement of the new plans came as the Senate Appropriations Committee today considered and rejected on a voice vote an attempt by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., to include similar language in a congressional appropriations bill. Several senators said the rejection was procedural; they preferred a separate bill-and the Commerce Committee’s plan to move ahead next week eliminated the need for any other plan.
Sen. Brownback still urged the committee to act, saying, “We are trying to keep a modicum of decency on the airwaves.”
Sen. Brownback also had been planning to offer language giving the FCC authority to act over excessively violent content, but chose not to do so.
(Editor: Horowitz)

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