US Broadcast Indecency Law Makes Progress

18 February 2005

America's neo-puritans will be raising a glass of something non-alcoholic in celebration of tougher indecency fines for television and radio broadcasters.

Media watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission, is set to be fitted with sharper dentures, alllowing it to impose penalties of up to $500,000 (€385k, £266k) for each breach of good taste by broadcasters.

The Broadcast Indecency Act 2005, passed overwhelmingly this week by the US House of Representatives, also allows for license-revocation hearings after a broadcaster's third offense and orders an increasingly pressured FCC to process complaints more quickly [WAMN: 10-Feb-2005].

The furore over sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll on TV and radio was prompted mainly by singer Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at last year's Super Bowl concert where she briefly exposed a breast to millions of outraged viewers.

Foamed Representative Fred Upton, who sponsored the bill: "There must be a level of expectation when a parent turns on the [television] or radio between the family hours that the content will be suitable for children. A parent should not have to think twice about the content on the public airwaves. Unfortunately, that situation is far from reality."

Broadcasters are dismayed, though many have demurred from comment. Those who have raised their heads above the parapet include NBC-Universal which says: "This approach of increased government regulation and censorship is fundamentally misguided."

Edward Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby group representing more than a thousand TV stations, hopes self-regulation will head off government action.

The finer details and any concessions will be hammered out in the Senate before the bill can be passed into law by president George W Bush.

Data sourced from Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff