House Bill $lams Broadcasters on Indecency

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would force radio and TV stations -- but not cable operators and networks -- to pay heavy fines for airing indecent programming at times when children are expected to be in the audience.

The full House could vote on the bill (H.R. 3717) next week.

The legislation, which passed 49-1, would raise maximum per-violation fines from $27,500 to $500,000. The Federal Communications Commission would have the authority to determine whether a string of curse words counted as a single violation or multiple violations of its indecency rules.

The bill -- introduced by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in January -- would allow the FCC to impose the maximum penalty not only on broadcast licensees, but also on individuals appearing on radio and television.

That would mean, for example, that golf star Tiger Woods, who has been caught cursing on live TV in reaction to wayward strokes, would have to exercise greater caution because a slip of the tongue could result in heavy FCC fines.

The commission -- which may currently fine a person no more than $11,000 -- has in the past opted to punish only broadcasters rather than their personnel.

But the agency is expected to put new emphasis on holding individuals accountable for indecency in the wake of Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast exposure, which she and Justin Timberlake performed allegedly without the prior knowledge of CBS brass.

After the vote, the National Association of Broadcasters announced its opposition to the bill, arguing that content regulation should be left to the industry, and not to government.

"NAB does not support the bill as written, but we hear the call of legislators and are committed to taking voluntary action to address this issue," NAB president Edward Fritts said in a prepared statement.