Congress Approves Broadcast Indecency Bill

15 March 2004

America's House of Representatives last week approved by 391 votes to 22 a bill increasing the penalties levied on TV and radio broadcasters that break federal indecency rules.

The new bill raises the level of fines by a factor of eighteen, from $27,500 (€22,477; £15,313) to $500,000 for holders of broadcast licenses; while individual performers (until now not personally liable) who violate these standards will have their pecuniary punishment set at $11,000 for each transgression.

A similar bill with even more draconian penalties for broadcasters is on its way through the Senate: $275,000 for the first offence, $375,000 for a second and $500,000 thereafter, up to $3 million per day.

Both bills require the Federal Communications Commission to consider revoking a broadcaster's license after three violations. The House bill also requires the agency to act on a complaint within 180 days.

Both also allow the FCC to fine performers for a first offense, a move that provoked a sharp intake of breath from the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists: "It's completely inappropriate and unprecedented for a broadcast company to shift the burden of complying with FCC regulations onto the backs of its employees," it complained.

The White House, however, approved wholeheartedly of the bill: "This legislation," said a spokesman for the president, "will make broadcast television and radio more suitable for family viewing."

But no presidential comment was forthcoming as to why the legislation applied only to content over the public airwaves. Cable and satellite output, which includes some of the most prurient material in the US media, is exluded from these controls.

Or why those incapable of fingering the channel-change button on their remotes should dictate what the rest of America watches.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff