Stations Won’t Have to Pay for Networks' Sins


Local broadcasters got a big break in the House Commerce Committee’s tough new bill on indecency, while cable essentially escaped with a warning.

Non-network owned affiliates will no longer be liable for fines for live programming or scripted programming over which they do not have effective control. But networks and individuals will, if indecency rules are willingly violated.

Market size and ability to pay will also be taken into account for fines that stations are liable for.

That was about the only bright spot in a bill that changed dramatically, though not unexpectedly, from the version passed out of the telecommunications subcommittee.

Licensees will lose the presumption of renewal on a first offense, meaning the FCC has to weigh that offense at renewal time and decide whether the station is fit to hold onto its spectrum. Three strikes and it is an automatic license-revocation proceeding.

Maximum indecency fines, which were originally to be increased 10 times are now up almost twentyfold, from $27,500 to $500,000.

The FCC is also being told to get tough on performers. Maximum fines for nonlicensees were raised dramatically, from $11,000 for $500,000. The bill also puts the fine into play for a first violation. Currently, nonlicensees had to get a warning first.

The FCC is being told to get the lead out when it comes to reviewing complaints. The bill establishes a 180-day shot clock within which it must make a decision. It will also be required to report to congress annually on its indecency enforcement.

The bill passed 49-to-1. The only holdout was Illinois Democrat Janice Schakowsky, who wanted to amend the bill to include rolling back the 39% ownership cap for two years while the GAO reviewed the connection, if any, between consolidation and indecency.

A number of Democrats on the panel suggested that doing something to stem such consolidation was a more effective means of addressing indecency than the indecency bill, which several said raised some speech issues.