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Lawmakers seek to boost indecency fines

Republican’s plan would raise maximum fine tenfold
/ Source: Reuters

Legislation aimed at raising fines tenfold for indecent acts on broadcast television and radio is due to be unveiled Wednesday by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, his spokesman Aaron Groote said Tuesday.

Brownback’s legislation would raise the maximum possible fine to $325,000 per violation with a maximum of $3 million per continuing violation, according to a draft of the measure obtained by Reuters Tuesday. The maximum now is $32,500 per violation.

Lawmakers and Federal Communications Commission officials have been seeking significantly higher fines as a way to deter broadcasters after a rash of incidents, including nudity and profanity on television.

Congress adjourned last year without acting on legislation that could have raised fines to as much as $500,000 per violation and a maximum of $3 million per continuing violation.

So far, five senators have agreed to cosponsor Brownback’s bill; Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, George Allen of Virginia, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Groote said.

A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee had no immediate comment on plans in the House for legislation to increase indecency fines.

Squabbles prevented lawmakers from acting last year. The legislation in 2004 went through several drafts and at one time included a provision that would force the FCC to consider revoking a station’s license after three indecency violations.

Other lawmakers had hoped to include language that would have tightened restrictions on media ownership, which the FCC had relaxed. A federal appeals court last year put those rules on hold, stating the FCC failed to justify the limits.

None of those contentious measures are in Brownback’s proposed bill.

Parents groups, lawmakers and FCC officials have been clamoring for more action against sexual innuendo, profanity and other antics on television and radio.

The FCC has cracked down harder over the last year, after pop singer Janet Jackson sparked outrage when she bared her breast during the Super Bowl football game almost a year ago.

After receiving more than 1 million complaints against 314 programs, the FCC issued proposed fines and obtained consent decrees against radio and television stations totaling almost $8 million.

That is up from $91,000 worth of proposed fines in 2001 against six radio stations and one television station after the agency received 346 complaints against 152 programs.

Broadcasters are limited to airing indecent material, like sexually explicit discussions or profanity, to late night hours when children are less likely to be listening or watching.