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Senate panel OKs single indecency bill

WASHINGTON (BP)–A U.S. Senate committee approved legislation July 19 to assure the federal government has the authority to rule a broadcast is indecent based on the use of one word or image.

The Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation forwarded to the full Senate by unanimous consent the Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act, S. 1780. The bill calls for the Federal Communications Commission to “maintain a policy that a single word or image may constitute indecent programming.”

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., seeks to remedy a June ruling by a federal appeals court that undermined FCC rulings against television programs in which obscene words were used in prime time.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Rockefeller in a July 18 letter the entity fully endorses his bill.

“Passage of this bill into law will help protect children from encountering indecent words and images on television,” Land said. “Even a single indecent word broadcast on television during regular family viewing hours can have a negative impact on children and society, and the FCC should have the ability to punish such airings for violation of indecency laws.”

In June a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected FCC decisions that the uses of obscene language in live programs on Fox Channel in 2002 and 2003 were indecent. With its 2-1 ruling, the judges sent the case back to the FCC to give the agency an opportunity to explain its reasoning further.

The FCC had decided live Fox broadcasts of the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards programs violated decency standards by use of the F-word and/or S-word. The decisions followed a ruling by the FCC that a single use of the F-word on the 2003 Golden Globes Awards on NBC was indecent. That marked a change in policy for the commission, which had previously relied on a requirement that the use of an expletive must be more than fleeting.

The Second Circuit majority ruled the FCC’s revised policy “represents a significant departure from positions previously taken by the agency and relied on by the broadcast industry.” Judge Pierre Leval dissented, however, calling the revision a “relatively modest change” and saying the FCC provided a “reasoned explanation.”

The Second Circuit ruling flew in the face of recent efforts by the legislative and executive branches of the federal government to stiffen penalties against broadcast indecency. In June 2006, President Bush signed into law a measure overwhelmingly approved by Congress that increased the maximum fine for each decency violation by 10 times to $325,000.

Pro-family organizations have long criticized the sexual content, plus obscene and profane language, on prime-time television. The 2004 Super Bowl halftime show pushed the issue into the national spotlight and motivated Congress to take action. Janet Jackson’s exposure on national TV capped a controversial show and brought a deluge of criticism from many Americans, including legislators and the FCC.
Compiled by Tom Strode

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