Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) received a swift up-or-down vote on S. 1780 yesterday afternoon in the Senate Commerce Committee. It's very narrow thrust is to restore to the FCC the right to fine broadcast stations for airing fleeting expletives, a right struck down recently in the Second Circuit. To say that the measure sailed through the committee would be a grotesque understatement.
An entire slate of business which included several nominations and six legislative items was read out of committee for full Senate consideration with barely any comment of any kind, and there was no comment whatsoever on the "Protecting Children from Indecent Programming Act." The entire agenda was dispensed with in less than two minutes. While no senator spoke up, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was quick to comment, "I appreciate the actions by the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation, which affirmed the Commission's ability to protect our children from indecent language and images on television and radio.
Significantly, members of Congress stated once again what we on the Commission and every parent already knows; even a single word or image can indeed be indecent." According to one constitutional scholar, if it also sails through the full Senate, the House and the Oval Office, we can look for it to sail right back to court. Harvard's Laurence Tribe, who testified on the matter before the committee last month and who is on retainer to the National Association of Broadcasters, told the Los Angeles Times, "If this is enacted, it certainly guarantees further litigation. It is essentially a directive to the FCC to proceed as if the Second Circuit hadn't spoken."
SmartMedia observation: You'd think a speech-chilling assault on the First Amendment would be worth at least a sentence or two. You'd think that at least one legislator would rise in opposition to increasing the FCC's role as national nanny. You'd think at least one senator would object to wasting more of the taxpayer's money on costly litigation over minor slips of the tongue. You'd even think that at least one cautious legislator would consider that continued litigation over this fringe indecency issue may well eventually lead to the toppling of the entire body of indecency regulation. But no, it was waved on through with no more thought than a flagman waving a car past roadwork. Unbelievable. Go get 'em, Mr. Tribe.