- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004


The Senate overwhelmingly agreed yesterday to fine radio and television broadcasters and personalities as much as $3 million a day for airing indecent entertainment.

Faced with public uproar stoked by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s “wardrobe malfunction” at this year’s Super Bowl, the Senate rushed the bill through on a 99-1 vote without floor debate.

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said the issue has been debated enough. Lawmakers continually have criticized broadcasters for airing what they say is increasingly coarse programming that can be seen or heard by children.

“People are tired of this indecent material on over-the-air public broadcast, particularly during prime time when people’s families are watching,” said Mr. Brownback, the bill’s sponsor. “We’re going to have to take action because the broadcasters won’t police themselves.”

Under the measure, the maximum fine for both broadcasters and entertainers would increase to up to $275,000 per indecent incident, up from $27,500 for license holders and $11,000 for personalities. The fines would keep increasing for each incident until a maximum fine of $3 million a day is reached.

The House passed a similar bill that would set fines at $500,000. Differences between the two bills must be worked out.

The Senate moved the measure without debate as part of the massive defense bill expected to be approved later this week. The only senator to vote against the bill was Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat.

A call to Mr. Breaux’s office for comment was not returned.

Federal law and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibit over-the-air radio and television stations from airing offensive material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., hours when children are most likely to be tuned in. No such restrictions exist for cable and satellite TV or satellite radio.

The FCC has no power to regulate those channels, which are available through subscription to 85 percent of the 108.4 million U.S. households with televisions.

Introduced in January, after FCC Chairman Michael Powell demanded higher fines, the bill wound up on the fast track after the Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show that ended with Mr. Timberlake partially exposing Miss Jackson’s breast for an instant to 90 million viewers.

The incident generated more than 500,000 complaints to the FCC.

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