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ERLC urges action on indecency bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity is urging support for legislation to reaffirm the federal government’s authority to regulate broadcast indecency.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called for action on the bill after a federal appeals court struck down a $550,000 fine by the Federal Communications Commission against CBS. The FCC fine was levied against the network for telecasting the baring of one of singer Janet Jackson’s breasts during the controversial 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. That display brought a deluge of criticism from many Americans, including legislators and the FCC.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled July 21 that the FCC departed from a nearly 30-year policy by fining the network for a fleeting image of indecency. The court said the commission previously had issued a fine only when the indecency was so “pervasive as to amount to ‘shock treatment’ for the audience.”

The appeals court “has in effect given the green light for broadcast television networks to air indecent material any hour of the day,” Land said in a July 30 “action alert” e-mail sent to Southern Baptists and other ERLC constituents. “This egregious decision ignores more than a half-million complaints to the FCC and leaves that agency virtually powerless to enforce a broadcast indecency bill” enacted in 2006.

Land urged passage of the Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act, S. 1780, to combat the Third Circuit opinion. The bill would require the FCC to “maintain a policy that a single word or image may constitute indecent programming.”

A Senate committee reported the bill to the full chamber last year, but no further action has been taken on it. The Senate, in effect, went into recess Aug. 1 and will not reconvene for legislative business until Sept. 8.

Land asked recipients of the “action alert” to call the legislation’s sponsor, Sen. John Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., and urge him to call for Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Rockefeller’s office phone number is 202-224-6472.

In 2006, Congress approved and President Bush signed into law a measure increasing by tenfold the maximum fine for indecency on television and radio. The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act increased the maximum penalty that can be levied by the FCC from $32,500 to $325,000.

In its action regarding the 2004 Super Bowl show, the FCC fined 20 CBS-owned television stations $27,500 apiece in achieving the $550,000 total penalty against the network.

Though the Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act has only 11 cosponsors in the Senate, it is a bipartisan group -– six Republicans and five Democrats. Rep. Chip Pickering, R.-Miss., has introduced a companion bill by the same name in the House. That measure, H.R. 3559, has 24 cosponsors, but it has yet to move out of a committee.

The legislation does not directly affect cable or satellite programming. The FCC is able to regulate only broadcast radio and television. On TV, that includes such networks as ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals is based in Philadelphia.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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