Indecent proposals

U.S. solons revive bills boosting FCC fines

WASHINGTON — An attempt to up broadcast indecency fines was renewed Tuesday night when Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives calling for stiffer penalties.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) followed suit by introducing a similar bill in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon.

Upton’s bill is multipronged, raising the maximum fine from $32,500 to $500,000 per incident as well as making artists liable for a first offense. Currently, the Federal Communications Commission is limited to issuing only a warning for a first offense. Bill also calls for revoking licenses of repeat offenders.

Co-sponsors so far include major players Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Brownback’s bill focuses exclusively on raising fines exactly tenfold, to $325,000 per incident, with a maximum cap of $3 million per day per station group owner. Co-sponsors include Senate colleagues Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and George Allen (R-Va.).

Upton and Brownback introduced essentially the same bills in the previous Congress, and each gained enough bipartisan support to be passed. But attempts to attach legislation curbing media consolidation and concerns over free-speech issues scuttled both bills before the House and Senate could reach final agreement on them.

“We’re more optimistic this time for two reasons,” said Brian Hart, a Brownback aide. “First, this bill passed last year 99 to 1, so there was overwhelming bipartisan support that we expect to continue. Second, some who objected and tried to put poison-pill measures onto the bill last year later became co-sponsors.”

“We were close to getting this on the books last year, but we will complete the job this time around, particularly since we are jumping on it right out of the gate,” Upton said in a prepared statement.

“It’s all political crap,” said Christopher Sterling, professor of media and public affairs at George Washington U. and a former senior FCC staff member. “We’ve been through these periods before about indecency, and this one’s only more intense because it was an election year last year.

“It’s still intense because of the results of the election and all the talk about red states. These kinds of bills play well on the homefront. But the likelihood they will survive court review is minuscule, and the politicians know that.”