By a 99-1 margin, the U.S. Senate today approved an amendment that would dramatically increase indecency fines. First introduced and later re-written by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), the measure was attached to a $447 billion Defense Department funding bill.
Under the amendment, the maximum fine for a single indecency incident would climb from $27,500 to $275,000 for licensees, for a maximum of $3 million a day. In a significant departure from the indecency legislation passed by the House, the Senate bill does not increase the fine for air talents. That fine, which currently stands at a maximum of $11,000, has never actually been enforced. AFTRA Assistant National Executive Director for Public Policy and Strategic Planning Rebecca Rhine said, "While legitmate concerns still exist about the possible chilling effect that large broadcaster fines may place upon free speech over the airwaves, we are gratified and relieved that the legislation avoids the pitfall of fining individual performers, announcers, broadcasters and sound recording artists."
Before the new fine structure becomes law, the Senate must approve the entire defense spending bill. Differences between the Senate and House versions would then have to be ironed out in joint conference, before the measure could be sent to President Bush -- who could sign or veto it.
Also approved today was a provision by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) that would delay by one year implementation of cross-media ownership rules relaxed by the FCC in June 2003. The Senate also voted in favor of an amendment by Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) that would permit the Commission to protect small market stations hit with sky high indecency fines for airing network or syndicated programming they had no control over.