ACLU Rep Calls Smut Actions "Ridiculous"

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The American Civil Liberties Union lobbyists have been talking to Senators, trying to dissuade them from moving forward with a bill that would boost FCC indecency fines dramatically. "We have been lobbying against it. We are opposed to it, and we are trying to stop it, ACLU legislative counsel Marv Johnson tells B&C.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has said recently he wants to finally move a Senate version of a similar House bill that passed over a year ago.

While the ACLU has not commented publicy on the FCC's recent indecency enforcement actions proposing over $3 million in fines against CBS stations, among others, Johnson calls them "ridiculous" and says that he thought they made a broadcaster court challenge more likely, particularly as the fine amounts mount. He said the ACLU would likely join such a suit as counsel, or at least file a supporting brief.

The just-proposed fines against CBS' Without a Trace could have topped $30 million under Congress' proposed fine boost of as much as 10 times the current $32,500 maximum per incident. That is enough to make it more than simply the cost of business for broadcasters not looking to anger Washington.

ACLU takes issue with the suggestion that the number of indecency complaints has dramatically increased, which some FCC commissioners have pointed to as something of a mandate for stepped-up enforcement.

Johnson points out that while the FCC used to count numerous complaints from one group--say, members of the Parents Television Council--as one complaint, it changed its methodology to count them individually (in part because PTC complained it was being undercounted). That means yesterday's single complaint would today be a hundred thousand.

"What they are trying to do is make the indecency problem as big an issue as possible," says Johnson.

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