Upton to Resubmit Smut Bill

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Indecency foes on Capitol Hill are wasting no time trying once again to give the Federal Communications Commission even more power to crack down on sex and swearing on TV.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, this month will reintroduce his bill boosting FCC indecency fines for stations and performers, according to a senior staffer.

The bill was the subject of high-profile hearings last year following the Janet Jackson Super Bowl reveal, and passed the House with bipartisan support before being folded into a Senate version that died when it was appended to an omnibus defense authorization bill at the end of the last Congress.

Some of the bipartisan support for Upton's original bill fell away as provisions were added in the Senate that would target violence on broadcast stations; indecency on cable and satellite, which have greater speech protections stemming from their pay service status; and even media consolidation.

Also helping to give some Democrats cold feet were complaints from the creative community, in particular from long-time children's TV activist Peggy Charren, that the content crackdown was promoting self-censorship, even affecting programs like PBS's Antiques Roadshow.

Essentaully the same legislation that passed the house, the new bill would 1) boost the maximum indecency fine from $32,500 to $500,00 per incident for stations and individuals, 2) require a license-revocation hearing after three violations (the so-called "three strikes" provision), 3) put a 180-day "shot clock" for FCC action on a complaint, and 4) strike the current provision that individuals cited for indecency can get a warning, but not a fine, for a first offense.

Upton has all along argued that adding any of the violence- or cable-related issues, not to mention consolidation, that were attached to the Senate version would be poison pills. In fact, all those add-ons were eventually stripped, with a "clean" version of the fine boost surviving onto the defense authorization bill before dying as that measure was finally pruned for passage.

Combined with the FCC's policy of now counting multiple utterances in a same show as separate violations, the $500,000 fine could result in multi-million dollar hits for offending broadcasters.

That new "per-utterance" policy, combined with the commission's decision to pursue swearing, has already encouraged at least three major broadcast group owners to pay the FCC large sums of money to wipe their slates clean rather than risk even-larger fines or threats to their multi-million dollar licenses.

Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), also will reintroduce an indecency bill in the Senate, according to a staffer, but has yet to set a timetable for reintroduction or determine what will be in the bill.

Co-sponsors for the Upton bill have not yet been announced, but there will be some, according ot the staffer.  

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