Senate Committee Cracks Down on Broadcast ‘Indecency’

30 June 2003

Broadcast ‘indecency’ [whatever that may mean] may soon be subject to more draconian penalties following a vote of the Senate Commerce Committee last week.

The committee approved a bill that clarifies the right of the Federal Communications Commission to re-regulate as well as deregulate. It also doubles from two to four years the period that may elapse before FCC regulations are subject to internal review. The bill has yet to clear the full Senate and the House of Representatives.

According to Senator Ernest F Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina), who moved the indecency initiative, this was triggered by an afternoon broadcast in January 2002 when WKRK-FM, a Detroit station licensed to Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting, transmitted an explicit discussion between radio hosts and nine callers of sexual and excretory functions.

Such programs are deemed attractive by broadcasters because they plumb the depths of cost as much as they do good taste. But WKRK got its sums wrong in this case as it now faces an FCC fine of $27,500 – albeit petty cash to the likes of Infinity Broadcasting.

Hollings opined the FCC had been negligent in policing decency standards: “I'm trying to wake up the Federal Communications Commission,” he said.

• Also in Hollings’ crosswires is the so-called UHF ‘discount’ used to calculate whether TV station groups comply with federal ownership limits. Originally introduced because UHF stations typically have weaker signals than VHF stations and therefore – so the theory goes – achieve only half the audience reach of the latter.

But this rationale is outmoded by the advent of digital radio signals which are equally powerful in either channel band. Hollings has proposed that the discount be abandoned on the first day of June 2008, by which date federal law anticipates all broadcasts will use digital signals.

He estimates that dumping the ‘discount’ will place Viacom’s CBS, NewsCorp-owned Fox, NBC (a unit of General Electric) and Paxson Communications over the ownership limits ratified last week by the committee.

Data sourced from: (USA); additional content by WARC staff