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House passes indecency crackdown
No doubt about it, expressing outrage over broadcast indecency is a bi-partisan affair. The full House of Representatives passed H.R. 3717, The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004, by an overwhelming 391-22 vote. The primary focus of the bill is to put more teeth into the FCC's enforcement of its indecency rules, mainly by increasing the maximum fine to $500K. Perhaps even more significantly, it also puts broadcast licenses on the table.
The bill was passed largely as read out of the Committee on Energy and Commerce (3/4/04 RBR Daily Epaper #43). Accepted additional amendments did not substantially change the bill. One guaranteed due process to those accused of indecency; another required a GAO study of FCC enforcement of indecency statutes.
Efforts by Democrats, notably Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) to add a companion amendment to that offered in the Senate by Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Trent Lott (R-MS) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) was killed in the Rules Committee. The amendment would have required the GAO to produce a study on the relationship between ownership consolidation and heightened levels of indecency; meanwhile, a moratorium would have been put on the FCC's 6/2/03 media ownership package.
What little opposition there was to the bill came mostly from the Democratic side of the aisle. However, at least one Republican, Ron Paul (R-TX), sided with the minority on First Amendment grounds. He cited concerns about government involvement in restricting speech voiced recently by Rush Limbaugh. Paul's concerns were echoed by some of the protesting Dems.
Several Democrats questioned the timing of Clear Channel's decision to drop Howard Stern from six of their stations. They said that the overall tenor of his program was unchanged. What did change, however, was his attitude toward President Bush. They charged that his more critical stance towards the President was the motivation behind Clear Channel's decision.
Radio station owner/Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) defended the bill, however, saying that most broadcasters, like most Americans, were offended by indecent programming and want no part of it on their own stations. He citing fine-size guidance ordering the FCC to consider company and market size when levying a fine, which he inserted to keep things fair.
And there's more to come. During his remarks, Bobby Rush (D-IL) noted that the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet will soon focus its attention on broadcast violence.