Bush Backs Indecency-Fine Hikes

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The Bush administration has thrown its support behind a bill that would increase the penalties for indecency tenfold.

In a letter to Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans expressed his "strong support" for the bill, which ups the maximum indecency fine from $27,500 to $275,000 per incidence, capped at $3,000,000 per aggregate action or failure to act.

Evans suggested the bill go even farther, recommending that the FCC be required to "consider" the maximum penalty when the indecent incident occurs during a children’s program or in a program rated appropriate for children.

It was unclear whether the Secretary wanted the FCC to be required to assess that penalty if it found a violation in that case, or only that it be required to have it on the table in such cases. The secretary’s office had not returned a call at press time.

The FCC has already said it would start considering that maximum fine more often as part of its ramped-up indecency enforcement.

H.R. 3717 now has bipartisan support in Congress, as well as the support of FCC Chairman Michael Powell and some broadcasters. Upton said that, given that support, the bill is on a fast track and should make it to the President’s desk.

The bill was one of the subjects of a Telcom subcommittee hearing today on indecency. The primary topic of conversation was the f-word as broadcast by NBC and Fox during separate awards shows.

The main proposal to address that solution, in addition to boosting the FCC fines, appeared to be industry self-regulation along the lines of a proposal by Clear Channel for an industry task force to set uniform standards.

A number of Congressmen said that would be preferable to government action, but suggested the latter would be forthcoming absent that industry effort. Texas Democrat Gene Green said that Congress might have to pass a bill authorizing such a task force, given the antitrust problems that struck down the old NAB code.

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