Smut Bill Passes Commerce 46-2

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The House Commerce Committee Wednesday voted 46-2 to pass a bill to toughen indecency enforcement. That compares to the 49-1 by which a similar bill passed last session.

The two no votes were Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the lone "no" vote last time, and one switch, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

The bill ups maximum fines from $32,500 to $500,000 for stations and from $11,000 to $500,000 for performers, increases the speed and oversight of the FCC indecency enforcement process, brings stations' licenses into play for violations, and encourages broadcasters to reinstate a family hour and voluntary code of conduct.

Two amendments were introduced by Schakowsky to strip out the provision that would up the fines on performers from $11,000 to $500,000 and maintain the current rule that performers must receive a first warning. Schakowsky , who said she was concerned about the chilling effect on artistic freedom, was the only committee member to vote against the indecency bill in the last session for the same reason.

Those amendments were voted down on voice vote, the only ones offered.

Although the bill did not address consolidation's effect on content or deal with violence or cable and satellite, several members said it should have, and that the committee should use the current bill as a springboard to those issues, including one member suggesting a la carte as a possible solution to cable indecency.

Amendments to a Senate version of the indecency bill on violence, cable, and consolidation in the last session helped submarine that effort.

While there were members looking for a tougher bill, there were also some  expressing reservations and the one switcher.

  • Waxman (D-Calif.) changed his vote, saying he was concerned that broadcasters had been chilled into self-censorship by fear of running afoul of the rules. He cited the ABC stations who did not air Saving Private Ryan due to its graphic language.
  • Although Waxman opposed the bill, he said the indecency issue should be looked at in the context of consolidation.
  • Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.), who asked both Joe Barton, Commerce chairman, and Fred upton, the Telecommunications Subcommittee chairman, if they would be agreeable to considering the need for updating the FCC's indecency definitions. Both said they would.
  • John Shimkus (R-Ill.), lamented that cable and satellite TV and radio indecency were not addressed in the bill, but said he would continue to push those issues
  • Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). Another voice for targeting pay media, Pitts talked of cable "filth," characterizing some operators as exercising poor judment in pursuit of a buck, and others with trying to refine filtering technologies, the latter which he encouraged. He said he hoped the committee would take some action on cable and satellite indecency "in the future."
  • Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). Praised the NFL's family-friendly half-time and pre-game show in the Super Bowl and pushed for his "sense of the Congress" resolution in the bill calling on the broadcasters to reinstitute a family hour and voluntary code.
  • Ted Strickland (D-Ohio). Warned that not including violence in an indecency definition might be missing the point of protecting children from harmful content, suggesting violence was a bigger threat that a glimpse of the female anatomy.

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