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House committee supports increase in indecency fines

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives already is acting in its new session to combat broadcast indecency.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 46-2 to forward a measure increasing the fines for indecency. The panel sent the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, H.R. 310, to the full House Feb. 9, and supporters of the bill expect it to be considered on the floor soon.

The measure would increase the maximum fine from $32,500 to $500,000 per violation for radio and television stations. It also would increase the top penalty for a performer or network from $11,000 to $500,000. The bill would require a license revocation hearing for a station after a third violation. In addition, it would force the Federal Communications Commission to act on indecency complaints within 180 days.

“We are gaining ground in our battle against indecency,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Mich., sponsor of the bill. “The public is on our side, and so is the law. By increasing the fines for indecency to $500,000, the fines will be at a level where they cannot be ignored.

“Using the public airwaves comes with the responsibility to follow the FCC decency standards that apply to programming that airs during the family hours of 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. –- the likeliest times that children may be tuned in,” Upton said in a written release.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate. His proposal, however, would increase the maximum fine to $325,000 for stations.

Neither bill would 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.

Last year, both houses overwhelmingly approved bills increasing indecency fines, but differences could not be worked out, causing them to die when Congress adjourned.

Pro-family organizations have long criticized the sexual content, plus obscene and profane language, on prime-time television. The Super Bowl’s halftime show last year, however, pushed the issue into the national spotlight and motivated Congress to act. Justin Timberlake’s uncovering of one of Janet Jackson’s breasts on national TV capped a controversial show and brought a deluge of criticism from many Americans, including legislators and the FCC.

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