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Industry must ‘clean up its room,’ FCC’s Powell testifies

WASHINGTON (BP)–Testifying before both a Senate and a House subcommittee, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said the agency is taking steps to sharpen its “enforcement blade” in a renewed effort to curb the flood of indecency on America’s airwaves underscored in recent weeks.

“The now infamous display during the Super Bowl halftime show, which represented a new low in prime-time television, is just the latest example in a growing list of deplorable incidents over the nation’s airwaves,” Powell told the Senate Commerce Committee Feb. 11.

Four FCC commissioners who supported Powell’s call for tougher enforcement of indecency and obscenity laws joined him in testifying before Congress. Among the FCC’s proposed steps to stem the tide of corruption:

— Increase the fines associated with violations so that multi-million-dollar companies will take notice. Legislation to increase the fines for indecency from $27,500 per incident to $275,000 has been introduced in both houses of Congress, although some observers say that amount is still too small.

— Establish an effective license renewal process that meets the FCC’s responsibility not to renew the licenses of those who air excessive amounts of indecent and violent programming.

— Reform the complaint process so that the FCC addresses all complaints within a specific timeframe such as 90 days.

— Address graphic violence as well as indecency and obscenity.

— Fine broadcasters for each incident rather than each program.

“Action must be taken by the entire television and radio industry to heed the public’s outcry and take affirmative steps to curb the race to the bottom,” Powell told the congressional panel, noting the FCC has received more than 200,000 complaints about the Super Bowl halftime show. “This industry simply must help clean up its own room.”

Powell said as a parent he shares the displeasure and fatigue of millions of Americans about the erosion of common decency standards on television.

“Protecting children and giving parents the tools to restrict inappropriate programming from unexpectedly invading our family rooms requires action on all fronts,” he said. “The effort begins with the commission.”

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told the panel that the FCC is failing the test of enforcing regulations, further emphasizing the need for a recommitment to its duties.

“At the same time that we are not adequately enforcing indecency laws, the commission is dismantling media concentration rules without considering whether there is a link between increasing media consolidation and increasing indecency,” Copps said. “It makes intuitive sense that as media conglomerates grow ever bigger and control moves further away from the local community, community standards go by the boards.”

The House telecommunications subcommittee also heard from Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League, in regard to the Super Bowl halftime show. He agreed that the performance was inappropriate and said it did not meet NFL expectations.

“Super Bowl XXXVIII, which was played on Feb. 1 in Houston, represented the finest football entertainment that the NFL offers,” Tagliabue told the House panel. “It also featured a halftime show that departed sharply from the NFL’s views of what constitutes high quality and acceptable entertainment, and which has properly resulted in significant criticism of all who were involved with that show.”

He went on to say the NFL accepts responsibility for what resulted from the contract with MTV.

“When we agreed to have MTV produce this year’s halftime show, we expected a show that would feature high-energy, outstanding and diverse musical entertainment that would appeal to the more than 100 million Americans who would watch some portion of the Super Bowl telecast, and that [it] would be free of the controversial elements that have generated well-grounded complaints from so many viewers.”

Mel Karmazin, Viacom Inc.’s president and chief executive officer, also spoke to the House panel, saying although he found the Super Bowl halftime show “very regrettable,” his company’s lawyers do not think the incident violated broadcast standards, according to The Washington Times.

“I take responsibility that it aired. Shame on me,” he said.

Karmazin told the lawmakers an internal investigation had found none of his employees at fault. Instead, he said, Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and her personal choreographer met one hour before the halftime show to plan the scheme to remove her top during the performance’s finale. The original intent, he said, was for a red bra to remain in place after the top was torn.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., a member of the House telecommunications subcommittee, told Karmazin she believed Viacom executives knew of the plot beforehand.

“You knew what you were doing,” she said, according to The Times. “You wanted us all to be abuzz. It improves your ratings. It improves your market share, and it lines your pockets.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, added his displeasure with the Super Bowl fare.

“They knew that this was beneath the standards, including CBS running some lewd and crude commercials during the Super Bowl,” DeLay said, according to The Times. “Everybody has got egg on their face.”

Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, counted the halftime scandal as a slap in the face to parents who are concerned about what their children view. He said he is glad the FCC is taking action.

“The wakeup call went off at the FCC,” he said, according to The Times. “Now what you’re seeing are the commissioners taking a very strong public position on this.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MICHAEL POWELL and MICHAEL COPPS.

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  • Erin Curry