US Lawmakers Toughen TV Indecency Fines

09 June 2006

America's new Puritans have scored a famous victory in their fight against television 'indecency', following this week's approval by Congress to hike fines for broadcast lewdness tenfold to a maximum of $325,000 (€254K; £175K) per violation.

President George W Bush will shortly sign off the necessary legislation, capping a two-year campaign by advocacy groups to reduce nudity, obscenity and sexual references on the public airwaves following singer Janet Jackson's notorious 'wardrobe malfunction' at the 2004 Super Bowl.

But despite pressure from the Parents Television Council and other conservative and religious groups, the rules do not extend to satellite and cable TV, nor radio operators. Legislators fear such a measure would breach the Constitution, since consumers pay to bring satellite or cable signals into their homes.

Media watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Republican chairman Kevin Martin, welcomed the passage of the bill. He called it a clear signal that Congress shared the commission's concern for "more meaningful enforcement" of the decency standard.

But Democratic congressman Gary Ackerman warned the bill would affect free speech, which is at risk of being "nibbled to death by election-minded politicians and self-righteous pietists".

Martin also used the occasion to reinforce his support for an overhaul of the cable industry's pricing in favour of an à la carte model [WAMN: 01-Dec-05].

This proposes that customers are allowed to subscribe to individual channels instead of cable bundles, enabling parents to choose the programming that comes into their homes.

The National Association of Broadcasters said in a statement that self-regulation was the most effective method of preventing indecent programming from being broadcast, but if regulation was necessary, it "should be applied equally to cable and satellite TV and satellite radio".

The CBS network, which broadcast the Janet Jackson incident, has signalled it may sue the FCC over the resulting $550,000 fine, against which it has twice appealed unsuccessfully [WAMN: 02-Jun-06].

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff