Senator Says Deal Near to Up TV Indecency Fines
Sept 23, 2004
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers are near a compromise on legislation that would significantly raise the penalties for television and radio broadcasters that violate decency standards, Sen. Sam Brownback said on Thursday.
The Kansas Republican declined to detail how much the maximum fine could be but said the compromise was tracking a measure the Senate passed in June, a bill that would increase fines to as much as $275,000 for the first incident and up to $3 million a day.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to boost fines to as much as $500,000 per violation.
Both bills would require federal regulators to decide whether to revoke a station's license after three violations.
"We've gotten together on a basic outline on what we would put forward in this and I think there's a good chance we're going to be able to get this done this year," Brownback told a news conference on the impact of television on children.
The current maximum fine is $27,500 per incident, which lawmakers and regulators have said is paltry compared to the profits many television and radio station owners earn.
The compromise is expected to be worked into a bill to reauthorize defense programs, which has a chance to pass this year and win the signature of President Bush.
The renewed push to bolster fines for indecent acts on broadcasts -- a campaign in part led by Brownback -- came after singer Janet Jackson (news) exposed her bare breast during the television broadcast of the Super Bowl football championship game in February.
"That's kind of the one where everyone said, 'that's it, I've had it, no more,"' Brownback said.
The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday said it had voted to fine 20 Viacom Inc.-owned CBS television stations the maximum $27,500 each -- a total of $550,000 -- for airing the Jackson incident.
Brownback also said he was unaware of any opposition among lawmakers to adding a provision that would permit the FCC to also impose penalties against individuals for such incidents without first giving them a warning.
He also said a provision in the Senate bill to reinstitute stricter limits on media ownership would likely be dropped.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation on Thursday released a survey that showed parents were far more concerned about their children viewing television depictions of violence in Iraq than they were about the Jackson incident.
Almost two-thirds of those polled, or 61 percent, were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the impact of televised violence in Iraq while 31 percent were very concerned or somewhat concerned about the Jackson episode.
"The medium that parents say they are most concerned about is TV by a fairly large margin," said Vicky Rideout, director of the foundation's program for study of entertainment, media and health. "A majority of parents say they are very concerned about sex and violence on TV."
Broadcasters are banned from airing obscene material, and can air material that could be indecent -- such as descriptions or depictions of sexual or excretory organs or activities -- only late at night, when children are less likely to watching or listening.