House Committee Approves Indecency Fines Of $500,000 Per Violation
March 3, 2004

Fred Upton

When the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004 emerged last week from Rep. Fred Upton's subcommittee, it proposed raising indecency fines from $27,500 per occurrence to $275,000. But, quoting Gomer Pyle now, surprise, surprise. Instead of increasing fine amounts tenfold, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Wednesday to raise them more than 18 times their current rate --  to $500,000 per violation. 

In another curveball for broadcasters from Wednesday's markup session, lawmakers set no maximum fine for an entire indecency incident, and voted to require the FCC to hold license revocation hearings after a company racks up three indecency violations.

The proposed bill would also dramatically speed up the enforcement process. Instead of letting complaints grow cobwebs at the Commission, the measure would require the FCC to make a determination within 180 days.  In other words, no more fines for shows that aired three years ago. 

"I believe, in addition to the financial sanctions that are in the bill, these provisions would allow the FCC to move more aggressively to combat indecency and would provide further incentives to licensees to better address these issues," Reuters quoted Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD) as saying. 

The Senate is also considering creating its own legislation to increase fines for indecency.  The Senate has included provisions to raise fines in a measure to reauthorize the FCC, but the bill has yet to advance.  However, the House and Senate differ on at what point the FCC should consider revoking a broadcaster's license.

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay spoke at a NAB conference and voiced his support for the harsher penalties.  DeLay told broadcasters: "Congress should speak clearly on this issue and not allow the bill or the debate to get bogged down by extraneous issues of regulatory retribution."  It was the largest turnout for a NAB conference in over two decades. (Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle also spoke to the NAB, and discussed rolling back the FCC's June ownership rulemaking.) The NAB has scheduled a forum on indecency for March 31 to discuss reinstituting voluntary guidelines for conduct.



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