WASHINGTON — "Wardrobe malfunctions" and other indecency may soon cost broadcasters 10 times more in federal fines.
Both the Senate and House have passed legislation to dramatically increase penalties for broadcasters that break federal rules and air profane or indecent material during certain hours. The two bills still have to be merged into one.
With no dissent, the Senate on May 18 approved a bill to raise indecency fines 10-fold to $325,000 per violation for television and radio broadcast stations that air profane or indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., prime family viewing hours.
"Families should be able to turn on the television during that period of time and trust the broadcasters to abide by the law," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who called up the legislation after it languished for more than a year.
"Broadcasters should know that if they cross the line the penalties will be serious."
The policy would not apply to cable or satellite services.
Opponents said parents should not expect fines to ease their responsibility for what their children watch.
"No amount of government control will help parents make decisions about what their children should see on TV," said Jim Dyke, the executive director of TV Watch, an interest group that opposes government regulation of television programming.
The House a year ago passed a version that would raise fines to as much as $500,000 per violation and require the Federal Communications Commission to also weigh revoking a station's license after three indecency violations.
The legislation was inspired by the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, during which singer Janet Jackson briefly exposed one breast in what she later called a "wardrobe malfunction."
The FCC fined 20 CBS Corp. television stations a total $550,000 for the Jackson incident. CBS apologized but challenged the fine. The legislation's proponents say current fines are not enough to deter broadcasters that earn millions of dollars in revenues every year. The FCC can now fine broadcasters $32,500 per violation.