The Senate late Thursday unanimously approved a bill that would increase Federal Communications Commission radio- and television-indecency fines tenfold, from $32,500 to $325,000 per offense.
The bill (S. 193) is different from a House-passed bill, which would raise the maximum fine to $500,000, make it easier for the FCC to impose fines on shock jocks for willful violations and allow the FCC to commence a license-revocation hearing after the third indecency penalty within an eight-year license term.
“I am glad the Senate took action and increased fines for broadcasters that show indecent material,” Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), the bill’s sponsor, said after passage. “It’s time that broadcast-indecency fines represent a real economic penalty and not just a slap on the wrist.”
Brownback’s bill, which also applies to obscene and profane material, would cap an FCC fine at $3 million for "any single act or failure to act."
Neither the Senate nor House bill permits the FCC to regulate indecent content carried by cable- and satellite-TV operators.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) pushed for Senate passage of the bill Wednesday after failing to round up support to pass the House bill a few weeks ago.
“The Senate took a great step forward tonight to protect children and families from offensive images broadcast directly into their living rooms. Parents should be able to watch television with their children without worrying about exposing them to unsuitable content,” Frist said in a prepared statement.
The FCC bans indecent broadcasts from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. -- hours when children are expected to comprise a substantial portion of the audience.
The FCC defines indecent as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”
Singer Janet Jackson’s breast exposure during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, aired nationally by CBS, infuriated family and parental organizations. The FCC fined CBS Corp.-owned stations $550,000 but not the network’s independent affiliates.
“Broadcasters must be held accountable for streaming smutty material into our homes. Their disregard for the well-being of our families is evident in their lack of discretion in what they choose to air. Maybe now that they’re going to have to shell out a few more dollars, they’ll show a little more consideration and class,” said Lanier Swann, director of government relations for Concerned Women for America, in a prepared statement.
"In issues related to programming content, NAB believes responsible self-regulation is preferable to government regulation. If there is regulation, it should be applied equally to cable and satellite TV and satellite radio," National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said.