WASHINGTON A House committee voted yesterday to increase from $27,500 to $500,000 the fines that could be imposed on broadcasters for airing indecent material.
A House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee had approved a tenfold increase, to $275,000, in fines the Federal Communications Commission could impose for each indecency violation. But the full committee voted 49-1 yesterday to nearly double that.
“Personal responsibility is as important a freedom as free speech,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the committee’s chairman. “America’s responsible parents seek to raise their children with a strong sense of responsibility for their actions why should performers be excluded from this expectation?”
The measure now goes to the full House. The Senate Commerce Committee is to consider its version of the legislation next week.
“We are finally gaining ground in the fight to clean up the public airwaves,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. “Just last week at our hearing, two out of three networks testifying NBC and ABC said that our bill to raise the fines for indecency tenfold would not be a deterrent to clean up the airwaves. We heard them loud and clear and now we raise the penalty to $500,000.”
National Association of Broadcasters President Edward Fritts said the group prefers voluntary industry initiatives to government regulation when dealing with programming issues. He pointed out that just recently, a number of broadcasters have taken steps to address concerns of parents and policy-makers.
The measure comes at a time when broadcasters are responding to pressure from federal regulators and lawmakers who say too much of radio and TV programming has become unsuitable for children.
Clear Channel recently fired a disc jockey for the “Bubba the Love Sponge” show. The program, which aired on stations in Florida, recently brought a $755,000 proposed fine from the FCC for sexually explicit content and other alleged indecency violations.
Clear Channel then announced it would suspend any personality accused of airing indecent programming and would ask its DJs to share in any financial penalties. It also suspended broadcasts of the Howard Stern show on its six stations that carry it, citing sexually graphic content from a broadcast.
Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels cannot air material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels and satellite radio.