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FCC issues record fine for indecency; critics say more needed

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Federal Communications Commission has proposed its largest fine ever for broadcast indecency, but critics are saying more should be done.

The FCC announced a proposed fine of $755,000 against Clear Channel Communications for 26 indecency violations by four of its radio stations. The commission’s penalties came at the maximum of $27,500 per violation for material reportedly broadcast on the “Bubba the Love Sponge” program. According to the FCC, the violations involved “graphic and explicit sexual and/or excretory material and were designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners.”

The large fine was not enough for two of the FCC’s own commissioners.

Commissioner Michael Copps said the FCC should hold a hearing on revocation of the stations’ licenses or level a higher fine.

A fine of $27,500 for each incident “will be easily absorbed as a ‘cost of doing business’ and fails to send a message that the commission is serious about enforcing the nation’s indecency laws,” Copps said in a written dissent. “‘Cost of doing business fines’ are never going to stop the media’s slide to the bottom.”

Commissioner Kevin Martin said the FCC should have fined Clear Channel for 49 indecency violations, totaling more than $1 million.

Donald Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association, called the fine a “good first step.” He said AFA would continue to encourage parents to ask the FCC and elected representatives to deal with indecency on television and radio.

“Our message is clear. Do something to protect our children from out-of-control disc jockeys and their nasty broadcasts,” Wildmon said in a written release.

The FCC also added $40,000 to the fine for a non-decency violation.

On the same day as the Clear Channel fine, Jan. 27, the FCC also proposed a fine of $27,500 against Young Broadcasting of San Francisco as a result of a male exposing himself on KRON, Channel 4.

The FCC announced its fines a day before a House of Representatives subcommittee held a hearing on broadcast indecency.

“I hope it signals a heightened seriousness on the part of the agency, and I will be watching closely to see that the FCC does not backtrack on its newfound aggressiveness on this issue,” said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell’s comments during the hearing were reported by the Associated Press.

At the hearing, Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, testified that the FCC had not done enough so far.

“Looking at the FCC’s track record on indecency enforcement, it becomes painfully apparent that the FCC [couldn’t] care less about community standards of decency or about protecting the innocence of young children,” Bozell told the panel members, according to AP.

Members of Congress already have proposed legislation to strengthen the regulation of broadcast indecency. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., has introduced the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, H.R. 3717, with 38 co-sponsors. The bill would increase the fine for each decency violation to a maximum of $275,000 and a total for continuing violations not to exceed $3 million.

Secretary of Commerce Don Evans endorsed Upton’s measure on behalf of the Bush administration in a Jan. 28 letter.

Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., also has introduced an amendment to specify five words and three terms to be included in the definition for “profane” in broadcasts. His bill is H.R. 3687.

The FCC has been the target of extensive criticism since its enforcement bureau ruled last year an expletive for male-female relations used during the live broadcast of the Golden Globe awards was not indecent. The bureau explained the word was used as an adjective and did not describe a sexual act.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in mid-January he wants to overturn the ruling and prohibit nearly all uses of the word in broadcasting, though there would be a few exceptions, such as political speech.
Michael Foust contributed to this article.