House Approves Indecency Penalties

WASHINGTION, D.C. The House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill to increase penalties for broadcast indecency nearly twentyfold, lending fresh momentum to a broad Washington offensive against coarse programming.

Final congressional passage awaits action by the Senate on its version of an indecency bill, and then negotiations to iron out differences between the measures. The Bush administration has said it supports indecency legislation.

The bill, approved 391-22 on Thursday, would increase the maximum possible fine to $500,000, up from the current $27,500. It exposes entertainers to the same possible penalty as broadcasters. The bill also mandates that regulators consider revoking broadcast licenses after a third indecency offense.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chair of the Commerce Committee where the legislation originated, said he was “very pleased” by Thursday’s vote. “It is time that we reclaim America’s airwaves for decency, and today’s passage is a firm message from the House to broadcasters and entertainers alike that we have had enough,” Barton said.

Official concern about indecency heightened after regulators ruled the performer Bono’s use of the F-word on a live broadcast last year should not be penalized. Concern grew into a furor after the Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show on CBS ended with singer Janet Jackson’s breast exposed.

The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing the decision about Bono’s utterance. It recently proposed fines against Clear Channel Communications and Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting, and is expected to issue more sanctions in coming weeks.