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Friday, May 19, 2006

Senate votes to increase FCC indecency fines tenfold
Joshua Pantesco at 12:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Senate on Thursday passed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 [PDF text], which would increase the maximum FCC indecency [JURIST news archive] fines per station by a multiple of ten, from $32,500 to $325,000 per violation. The bill was discharged by unanimous consent from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation [official website], and was unanimously passed Thursday evening by an almost empty Senate chamber under a seldom-employed parliamentary rule used by Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) that permitted official Senate approval in the absence of a 'nay' vote. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KA) [press release], who said, "[r]adio and television waves are public property, and the companies who profit from using the public airwaves should face meaningful fines for broadcasting indecent material." The House version of the bill [PDF text], passed in early 2005, would increase maximum fines to $500,000, and would require the FCC to hold a license revocation hearing after a broadcaster accumulates three fines.

In March, the FCC proposed a record $3.6 milion fine [JURIST report] for CBS for airing a graphic sex scene on the show Without a Trace, which was later reduced on appeal [JURIST report] to $3.3 million. After the House broadcast indecency bill was passed in 2005, the National Association of Broadcasters announced their disapproval of increased indecency penalties, saying in a brief statement [text] that "voluntary industry initiatives are far preferable to government regulation when dealing with programming issues." The Los Angeles Times has more.

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