Indecency, violence put on hold, briefly


The attempt by Sam Brownback (R-KS) to attach measures to an FCC funding bill which would restore the FCC's right to punish fleeting expletives and open a new FCC line of attack against violent programming was defeated. But it was in large part a procedural matter, since Dan Inouye's (D-HI) Commerce Committee claims jurisdiction and has it on the schedule for next week. A bill on the subject is being introduced by Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and although it has a number and name now – S. 1780, Protecting Children from Indecent Programming Act – it has not yet made it onto the official Senate website. It is on the docket for a mark-up session scheduled for Thursday, 7/19/07 at 2:30PM Eastern along with five other bills and consideration of various nominations.

Rockefeller's bill has officially become bipartisan, with the Committee's Ranking Member Ted Stevens (R-AK) adding his name to it along with two from Rockefeller's side of the aisle, Inouye and Mark Pryor (D-AR). "It is my hope the Commerce Committee will swiftly approve this bill and that we can work with the House to do the same,'" said Stevens. "It is important for the FCC to be able to continue to protect the American public from indecency on the radio and broadcast television." In a bit of unrelated business, the Committee also announced a hearing on the progress made thus far on the DTV transition, echoing a similar hearing held in the House by Ed Markey (D-MA) back in March. It's pegged for Thursday, 7/26/07 at 10AM.

SmartMedia observation: Although we couldn't look at S. 1780, we dug up a copy of its abandoned big brother, S. 616, which also addressed the issue of violent programming. It directed the FCC to come up with rules of the road for curbing violence. Of course, a key to this would be defining the crime, something S. 616 makes no attempt to do. When the FCC turned in its less-than-landmark study this spring, it also ducked that particular issue and suggested that Congress come up with a definition.

In recent testimony before Congress on this topic, legal scholar Laurence Tribe suggested that the job was impossible, but that an expert agency like the FCC had a much better chance of success than a collective body such as Congress. Our belief is that the task is impossible. We've seen bills come out of this committee before, never to be seen again, and maybe this will be one of them, meaning committee members get to cast their vote in favor of protecting children without the embarrassment of being shot down in court. But if it does make it to the floor of the Senate, it will be difficult to vote against, so we may as well start booking court time ASAP in that event.