Taking another shot at punishing broadcast indecency, the House of Representatives on Wednesday (Feb. 16) approved huge increases in fines for airing material deemed indecent.
The bill would raise the fines the Federal Communications Commission can levy against broadcasters from the current ceiling of $32,500 per incident to $500,000. It also allows the FCC to fine individual performers a half-million bucks, more than 40 times the current limit of $11,000.
The commission has never imposed a fine against an individual performer, and is currently required to issue a warning to performers before fining them. The House bill scraps the warning requirement.
The bill enjoyed overwhelming support from both parties, passing 389-38, the AP reports.
“This is a penalty that makes broadcasters sit up and take notice,” says Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. He’s the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which crafted the bill and sent it to the full chamber for a vote. “This legislation makes great strides in making it safe for families to come back into their living room.”
The measure’s relatively few opponents cited concerns about a chilling effect on free expression and the FCC’s fuzzy definition of indecency as reasons for their “no” votes.
“No one knows when one person’s creative work will become another person’s definition of a violation of indecency,” says Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who opposed the bill.
Congress is taking its second crack at giving the FCC greater fining power. Spurred to action by the unexpected appearance of Janet Jackson’s nipple-shielded boob at the 2004 Super Bowl, both the House and Senate passed bills last year to increase FCC fines for indecency. The Senate bill, however, also contained an amendment that would have imposed a moratorium on the FCC’s media ownership rules, which scrapped a compromise between the two chambers.
This time around, the Senate version would increase fines against broadcasters tenfold to $325,000, with a cap of $3 million per day. The House bill doesn’t have such a cap.