Sweeping Vote Boosts Maximum to $325K
Washington, DC – Congress dealt the latest blow in the struggle to better define indecency and determine fair rulings, voting to increase fines against television broadcasters airing allegedly obscene material tenfold—from a maximum $32,500 to $325,000 per incident.
Having garnered Senate approval in May, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act passed the House Wednesday with a decisive 379-35 vote.
Vowing to sign the act in to law, President Bush lauded its passing. The president said the legislation will make television and radio more "family-friendly" and allow the Federal Communications Commission to impose stiffer fines on broadcasters who air obscene or indecent programming.
Some political observers say this congressional move represents a victory for many conservative groups, whose efforts toward a constitutional ban on gay marriage were dashed this week as the ban proposal failed in the Senate.
The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act does not attempt to define what is indecent, nor does it apply to cable or satellite broadcasts. According to the FCC, indecent material is that which contains sexual or excretory material, not rising to the level of obscenity.
FCC rules and federal law dictate that radio and television stations who broadcast over public airwaves may not air indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.—when children are most likely to be viewing—and may not air obscene material at any time.
Inspite of Congress' overwhelming support of the act, some lawmakers and television industry advocates are concerned that such actions chip away at First Amendment rights and further encumber the ability to determine whether certain material truly violates the law. ABC Television, for instance, pulled its broadcast of celebrated war film Saving Private Ryan in the wake of CBS' pivotal 2004 Super Bowl halftime incident, citing language concerns.
The Super Bowl incident catalyzed anti-indecency campaigns of groups such as the Parents Television Council, among others. PTC president, L. Brent Bozell, said the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act properly strengthens the power of the FCC to penalize broadcasters where fit. "We hope that the hefty fines will cause the multibillion-dollar broadcast networks finally to take the law seriously," Bozell said.
The FCC has already handed down record fines against nets in the past two years (see Emmys.tv News: Four TV Nets Take FCC to Court), the largest of which—$3.3 million levied against CBS and its affliates for airing an episode of crime drama Without A Trace containing simulated orgy scene—is currently under review.
The National Association of Broadcasters, who said our nation's 1,700 television stations and 13,000 radio stations should be allowed to police themselves, launched a parent education initiative earlier this year to increase awareness and use of various program blocking and control tools available to them (see Emmys.tv News: Valenti Urges Parental Control).