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Subcommittee OKs increase in FCC penalties for indecency

WASHINGTON (BP)–A congressional panel has approved legislation for a ten-fold increase in the maximum penalty the Federal Communications Commission may levy for broadcast indecency.

The House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet passed without opposition Feb. 12 the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, H.R. 3717. The measure moves next to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Mich., would increase the maximum fine for indecency on radio and broadcast television to $275,000 per violation. The FCC now may not issue a penalty larger than $27,500 per incident.

On the same day, a new survey was released showing a majority of Americans are offended by TV indecency. The poll, conducted by The Gallup Organization, found 58 percent of Americans are offended by profanity or curse words, 58 percent are offended by sexual content and 52 percent are offended by homosexuality on television. The survey, conducted Feb. 6-8, also found 61 percent of Americans are offended by TV violence.

Television decency became a widespread topic of debate in the wake of the Super Bowl’s halftime entertainment. Justin Timberlake’s uncovering of one of Janet Jackson’s breasts on national TV Feb. 1 capped a controversial show and brought a deluge of criticism from many Americans, including legislators and the FCC.

Upton called his proposal a “tough bill which, if enacted, would help clean up our airwaves, no doubt about it.”

“It’s just that, regrettably, the current ‘race to the bottom’ in the entertainment industry has made it an all but impossible task for parents,” Upton said in a written statement. “They should be able to rely on the fact that — at times when their children are likely to be tuning in — broadcast television and radio programming will be free of indecency, obscenity and profanity.”

The Bush administration has endorsed Upton’s bill.

The measure would not directly affect cable TV programming. The FCC is able to govern only broadcast television, which includes such networks as ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

The Gallup poll revealed a vast difference by age in Americans’ response to TV indecency. It found the older the person is, the more likely he was to be offended. For instance, 80 percent of those 65 years of age or older said they were offended by sexual content, but only 35 percent of those between 18 and 29 said they were offended by such material. On the issue of homosexuality on TV, 72 percent of senior citizens said they were offended, while only 25 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they were.

The survey also showed 75 percent of those polled believe the entertainment industry should make a serious effort to reduce sex and violence on TV.

The week prior to the Super Bowl, the FCC issued its largest fine ever for broadcast indecency. The commission proposed a fine of $755,000 against Clear Channel Communications for 26 violations by four of its radio stations.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RAISING A STANDARD.