Pressure’s On in War on Indecency

Heavy fines proposed by the Federal Communications Commission last week demonstrated its newfound resolve to fight broadcast indecency. With Congress and the Bush administration getting into the act, too, Washington’s message is clear: Coarse broadcasts will face tougher scrutiny and potentially steeper penalties.

Lawmakers from both parties called for stronger FCC enforcement and self-restraint by the networks as Congress held its initial hearing last week on a bill to increase tenfold—to $275,000—the possible fine for broadcast indecency.

The hearing came a day after the FCC proposed fines totaling $755,000 against Clear Channel Communications for broadcasts on four of its Florida radio stations featuring crude sexual themes, and $27,500 against Young Broadcasting for a live interview on KRON-TV in San Francisco that showed a man exposing himself.

Some said the FCC should do more. Commissioner Kevin Martin said he favored a fine for each offending utterance rather than one fine per program. FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the agency may consider that approach.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House commerce committee, appeared offended that the FCC had ruled it could not punish NBC for a live broadcast that included the word “fuck.” Tauzin sat in on an initial hearing for the bill to increase penalties. The White House lent its support via a letter from Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.

“American families should be able [to know],” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who chairs the House telecommunications subcommittee, that “at times when their kids are likely to be tuning in, broadcast TV will be free of indecency.”