Pols say higher fines are indecent

Ensign claims FCC provisions holding up Defense bills

WASHINGTON — If several prominent senators have their way, broadcasters could be breathing a sigh of relief when it comes to Janet Jackson’s flash-dance fallout.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is taking aim at a bill that would boost Federal Communication Commission broadcast indecency fines at least tenfold, from $27,500 a violation to between $275,000 and $500,000 per infraction with a cap of $3 million a day.

Bill was first introduced in the wake of the Jackson flap, then quickly passed the House and Senate, only to lie dormant for months awaiting a conference between the two bodies.

Sponsored by avowed Hollywood foe Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), legislation is now attached to must-pass Defense Dept. legislation in the Senate.

Ensign recently wrote a letter to Armed Services Committee chair John Warner (R-Va.), complaining that the indecency provisions are standing in the way of important military matters.

“They are presenting an unfortunate distraction to the important work we need to complete to combat terrorism, provide for our homeland defense and provide quality of life improvements for members of the armed forces,” he wrote.

Ensign originally backed the bill as a member of the Commerce panel, where it originated. He did not, however, support amendments added in committee that would limit media ownership and force the FCC to study the impact of violent programming on kids. He is also wary of a provision that would hold artists and performers accountable to the same six-digit fines as the media companies and another that would trigger an automatic broadcast license-revocation hearing after three indecency infractions.

Ensign, as well as GOP Sens. George Allen (Va.), Conrad Burns (Mont.), John Cornyn (Texas), Gordon Smith (Ore.) and John Sununu (N.H.), all asked Warner to include only the fine increases or drop the bill entirely.

Parents Television Council prexy L. Brent Bozell blasted the request in a statement released Tuesday.

“Senator Ensign’s rationale of ‘form over substance’ could prove to be the kiss of death for the fine increase,” Bozell said. “This measure represents the only viable avenue for the indecency provision to become law during this congressional session.”

A spokesman for the Armed Services panel did not return calls seeking comment.

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