Lawmakers close to finalizing indecency bill

Congressional lawmakers are close to finalizing legislation that would broaden the government’s power to crack down on indecent material over the airwaves.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) yesterday said that the bill, which has been languishing in conference for weeks, will probably reach the president’s desk soon.

In a teleconference with reporters, Barton said, “We think we have a deal … that will be announced publicly soon.”

The indecency bill, which has been attached to the Department of Defense authorization measure, moved quickly through Congress after Janet Jackson’s breast was bared during this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

Even though the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had the power to fine
Jackson $11,000, it chose not to. The FCC yesterday announced that it has levied the statutory maximum fine of $550,000 on Viacom-owned CBS affiliates for violating indecency rules during the Super Bowl broadcast.

Erik Huey, a lobbyist at Venable who represents the Creative Coalition and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, said, “It’s important to note that the commission’s decision did not include a fine on the individual performers in the Super Bowl incident, thereby further underscoring the FCC’s long-held view that broadcast licensees, rather than individuals, are the responsible party for keeping indecency off the airwaves.”

The House bill would give the FCC the power to fine performers $500,000; the Senate legislation is silent on fining performers.

Barton said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who crafted the Senate bill, has been pushing for the bill to be signed into law before the election. He added that Brownback is not a conferee on the defense authorization bill but has been tasked by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Warner (R-Va.) to negotiate the indecency provisions with House lawmakers.