Indecency Provision To Make Post-Election Return?
First reported: October 7, 2004
Updated: October 11, 2004

The indecency amendment to last week's Department of Defense bill could resurface as its own bill.  Broadcasting & Cable reports that Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, has reintroduced essentially the same legislation as its own bill into the Senate.  The bill is sponsored by Brownback, and Senators John Ensign, R-NV, Conrad Burns, and Byron Dorgan, D-ND.  The Senators will attempt to get the bill passed in the next few days, before Congress adjourns for the duration of the election season.  If not, Brownback will continue to push the bill in the next session, or in 2005.  Many speculate the legislation will most likely not pass on its own, due to Democrats who would like ownership restrictions attached to it.


As FMQB first reported last week, the provisions for a compromise that would have raised the cap on indecency fines to $500,000 were removed from a Department of Defense authorization bill. Indecency provisions were dropped when a group of Senators pushed to include a provision that would prevent the FCC from relaxing its media ownership rules.  In fact, all language relating to media issues were stripped out of the Defense bill, including an amendment requiring the FCC to study violence on television and how well children are protected from it.


"There was a broad feeling in the committee and in the chamber that the elements of that package needed to move together and they shouldn't be broken apart," Barry Piatt, a spokesman for Sen. Dorgan, told FMQB.


Piatt added that the decision to move forward by splitting the indecency provision from the ownership provision was "a choice to protect media conglomerates and their ability to buy up everything rather than protect kids from indecency, and it's a pretty poor choice. The ownership elements of that package have wide support in both the House and the Senate. There is no reason they should have been taken out. Somebody prefers protecting corporations instead of kids."


The Hollywood Reporter states that some lawmakers had concerns about the Broadcast Decency Act’s impact on First Amendment rights and that Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, believed that fining individual performers went too far.  Others believed that the indecency legislation did not belong on a defense bill.  One lobbyist was quoted saying, “This is a committee dealing with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, which is a little more important than Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction’.”


Parents Television Council president L. Brent Bozell, who has strongly supported indecency legislation, said in a statement, “The issue of media ownership is a poison pill when it is attached to indecency because the House has refused to even consider any bill that has media ownership attached to it.”  He added, "Senator Dorgan has been a stalwart partner in the fight against indecency. Yet today his selfish actions have undermined months -- in fact, years -- of progress on this issue by refusing to withdraw his media ownership provision in the [authorization] bill."


While supporting the increase in fines, Dorgan and other legislators have fought the FCC’s media ownership rules.  The ownership rule changes are currently tied up in the courts  According to the Washington Post, Dorgan fears that the FCC could appeal the court’s ruling and enact the new rules.  He has been fighting the ownership rules since June of 2003, and wants them thrown out altogether.

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