The House of Representatives today overwhlemingly passed landmark legislation that raises fines for obscene, indecent and profane language on broadcast radio and television. The vote was 391 to 22.
Under the bill, fines will jump from the current maximum of $27,500 per incident to $500,000. Non-licensee individuals, including DJs and recording artists, will also be subject to the maximum fine, and will no longer be warned for a first offense. After three indecency violations, a licensee would be subject to a revocation hearing.
Several Republican and Democratic House leaders, in voting for passage, said that until the underlying cause of such programming — media concentration — is addressed, symptomatic “indecent” programming to grab ratings will continue.
Two Democratic New York lawmakers, Reps. Gary Ackerman and Jose Serrano, who opposed the bill, defended free speech and said the source of the clean-up move was the religious right and the Bush administration, who are trying to silence political critics like DJ Howard Stern, who has recently come out in opposition to certain policies. Stern’s employer, Infinity Broadcasting, is headquarted in New York.
Unlike the Senate version, passed by the Commerce Committee March 9, the House measure does not contain a provision to halt media-ownership rule changes for a year while the General Accounting Office probes whether there is a connection between indecent programming and media concentration. Nor does it contain a provision that there be a “safe harbor” from violent programming during hours when children are likely to be viewers.
Once the Senate votes — and the measure is widely expected to pass — a conference will reconcile the two versions.