Religious B'casters Don't Endorse House Bill - Broadcasting & Cable

Religious B'casters Don't Endorse House Bill

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The nation's religious broadcasters aren't backing the new indecency-enforcement legislation that passed in the House, fearing a time when their on-air preaching could be redefined as indecent.

Does that mean they oppose tougher indecency enforcement? Hardly.

Religious broadcasters, in this case represented by the 1,700-member National Religious  Broadcasters (NRB) Association,  still believe that profanity, particularly taking the Lord's name in vain, and sexually suggestive material, are too evident at times when children are around. They would like the FCC to better enforce the rules on the books, and to have those existing fines upped. But, no, they aren't ready to support indecency enforcement legislation that they fear could be expanded down the road to include them.

Legislators have taken pains to point out that their bills do not change the definition of indecency. But bills have been known to change on their way through the Capitol, as the indecency bill did last Congress, picking up provisions on violence and media ownership, a point some religious broadcasters made to B&C..

In addition to upping the fines, the bill, introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) targets performers, puts licenses explicitly into jeopardy for multiple offenses (the so-called "three-strikes" provision), and calls for a GAO investigation into the FCC's  past indecency enforcement.

At its annual meeting two weeks ago, an NRB committee had drawn up two resolutions, one encouraging the FCC to better enforce the rules it has, the other in strong support of the  efforts from Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to toughen FCC indecency penalties.

But after some debate, the board didn't approve either, said NRB President Frank Wright. Why? Wright says that the board realized it had already adopted a resolution last year encouraging the FCC to boost enforcement, so that resolution was moot. As for the indecency bills, some members were concerned that a new law could come back to bite them if it were used down the road to expand the definition of indecent to include religious expression.

As one 40-year board member of NRB explained it to B&C, their concern is that some future administration might disapprove of religious speech--say on homosexuality--and classify it as off-limits. “While we don't want people to take the Lord's name in vain,” he said, “we don't want the government to prevent us from praising it either.”

"The current laws [on indecency] are carefully drawn and have been vetted up to the Supreme Court," Wright points out. Besides, he says, the FCC has stepped up enforcement, and broadcasters are increasingly self-regulating.

Wright says it was the FCC's previous lax enforcement, rather than a lack of direction from Congress, that has been the main problem anyway. But Wright also says that if an indecency bill emerges that simply ups the fines and no more, as would Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback's, NRB would be fine with that.

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