Kerry Backs Smut-Fine Boost

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From Tuesday's roll-call vote on Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback's indecency amendment, we know that Sen. and presidential hopeful John Kerry (D-Mass.), along with virtually everyone else (Louisiana Democrat John Breaux was the only exception), supports cracking down on media content.

The amendment as passed 99 to 1 raises indecency fines by a factor of not quite 10. The FCC boosted its base fine las Friday, per an existing inflation trigger, from $27,500, to $32,500, but not in time to be reflected in the bill, which at $275,00 per is based on the old base.

The FCC has already declared that it can go after language, regardless of its nature or context. Now it will have far heavier fines to impose, which will also undoubtedly escalate the price of settling complaints (Clear Channel recently had to pay $1.75 million to settle a bunch of complaints, now that could be $17.5 million).

Broadcasters have already adopted new policies on content, including firing popular performers and delaying broadcasts, for fear of losing their licenses or having to shell out big fines.

The increased fines also mean that artists would now be liable for much bigger hits. The FCC has never fined a performer, but it is free to do so after a single warning. The American Federation of Radio and TV Artists praised Senate passage of the Brownback amendment because it did not include language specifically targeting performers, but there is also nothing preventing the FCC from breaking with precedent.

The Senate also approved by voice vote amendments that would make the indecency fines proportionate to market size or ability to pay (Senator Conrad Burns) create a violence harbor (Fritz Hollings) and throw out the FCC's June 2 ownership dereg (Byron Dorgan) ostensibly because they would lead to more indecency.

Kerry's office had not returned a call about whether the Senator was one of those approving voices on the measures (they don't have to identify which way they voted), but in an interview with C-Span earlier this month, Kerry made it clear he was no media fan, saying: "I wasn’t there for the vote, but I was 100% in favor of overturning the [media ownership] rules. I think that too much media in the hands of one powerful entity or one individual is a mistake.... I think it runs counter to the need for Americans to know that they are getting news and information from multiple sources that are not singularly controlled."

By contrast, he has voted in the past against Hollings violence harbor bill.

This version is different, though. It would ban indecent cable and satellite programs during daytime hours unless they were rated and could work with a V-Chip. It would also require the FCC to study whether the V-Chip worked. If it didn't, violence on broadcast and cable would be banned during the same daytime hours (6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) that indecency is now proscribed.
The key backer of the V-chip is Kerry's fellow Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. Ed Markey, and a key Kerry staffer say the Senator recognizes that a lot of people don't distinguish between cable and other channels. That echoes a justification for cable and satellite regulation that was heard often, both from legislators and members of the broadcast community, at indecency hearings earlier this year.
Kerry also voted back in March to regulate cable and broadcast indecency on expanded basic until 85% of viewers either could use the V-chip or said they didn't want to.

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