Upton at 'em:
Sponsor explains indecency
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) is chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, making him one of, if not the most important members of that body when it comes to issues affecting broadcasters. That's why we took special notice of his 2/16/05 appearance on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" to discuss the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005.
He noted that the bill does nothing to define the problem. "We don't change the standards," he said, noting that the FCC has a "boilerplate" definition. Just what is indecency, he was asked. "You know it when you see it," he said. "The broadcasters know what it is."
He said the thrust of the bill was simply to give the FCC more teeth, taking the fines out of the realm of cost-of-doing-business. He noted that "...99% of the broadcasters comply with the rules, but there are a few..." who do not. "Most of the fines are radio; very few are TV."
He noted the broadcast/cable divide when answering a call-in question, but said due to court rulings on the difference between unbidden entry into the home of a broadcast signal compared to the conscious pay-for-it decision to purchase cable or satellite, there was little he could think of to do which would enforce decency standards on the two subscription media.
Asked about the "Saving Private Ryan" situation, Upton ducked, weaved or strayed, but he didn't directly answer the question. He did say the effort had nothing to do with freedom of speech. Rather, "We're going after triple X sex."
Perhaps Upton misspoke when he mentioned "triple X sex." We don't know how you'd define "triple x sex," but we think you'd have a tough time including Nipplegate, or Bono, or Victoria's Secret, or Oprah, or "Keen Eddie," or other celebrated incidents under that category. Then there was Upton's response to a question about VP Dick Cheney. Asked if a newscaster would be liable for a huge indecency fine if they happened to broadcast Cheney's celebrated Senate floor F-bomb, Upton said he didn't know, and maybe members of Congress needed to be on a five-second delay. Does this mean that Upton is leaving it open that perhaps Cheney's slip of the lip constituted triple x sex? Maybe that's not what Upton meant, but it's certainly what he said. If he did mean it, we'd have to say he's out of his mind. If he didn't, he is putting a bright-line underscore on one of the big problems inherent to the enforcement of indecency regulations as currently defined. Hey Fred, we honestly don't know what the definition is.
By the way, as defined pre-Bono, there is no way Cheney's remark would have been found to be indecent. It was not designed to pander or titillate, it was not sustained, it was part of a bona-fide and important news story, and the f-bomb was not used to describe sexual or excretory behavior. Not until the FCC decreed post-Bono that there is never, ever a time when the f-word can be used was the Cheney incident placed in doubt. The FCC seems since to have backed off that never, ever decree somewhat, but you know what? We just aren't sure about that. At all. Thanks for the clarification.
And while we're at it, how come radio gets almost all the fines, anyway? I guess male strippers discussing illicit affairs with their sisters-in-law are alright, as long as you watch your language. It's clear, what's OK for Oprah isn't OK for Howard.