Indecency watchdogs see an opportunity with Fred Upton


The House of Representatives champion of vastly increased fines for egregious incidents of broadcast indecency was Fred Upton, and a final version of the bill he kicked off, the Broadcast Decency Act, eventually made it to the desk of George W. Bush, gained a signature, and increased the top fine by a factor of ten. Groups like PTC have not failed to notice that Upton is now Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

According to Hillicon Valley, groups like the Parents Television Council are hoping that the presence of a key congressional warrior in the indecency wars at the top of the key committee when it comes to broadcast legislation will help them forward their cause of cleaning up the airwaves.

According to PTC’s Dan Isett, the courts have completely done away with the FCC’s ability to police airwave content. The watchdog is hoping that there is a legislative fix, and that Upton will be the one to start it on its way through the legislative process.

Isett also pointed out that Upton will not have to rely solely on Republican votes – the Chairman of Upton’s companion Commerce Committee in the Senate is Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), another committed advocate for strong indecency enforcement.

In fact, Upton’s bill sailed through Congress once it made it into its final form, with almost no resistance from either party.

RBR-TVBR observation: Is Upton’s law in turn a prime example of the law of unintended consequences? The indecency fine is so large the FCC seems reluctant to trot it out and put it to use. Meanwhile, the Commission is having a terrible time defending its indecency policies in court. Can Upton do better?

We would like to remind Upton that broadcast content is not nearly as horrific as PTC claims, and point out that most days, there is no cause for anybody to complain about it.

We are not First Amendment legal scholars, but it would seem to us that legislators trying to write enforceable indecency regulations will face the exact same constitutional complexities that the FCC is grappling with. If Upton and friends can come up with a streamlined and enforceable indecency regimen, one that can easily be understood and followed by programmers, we think many if not most broadcasters would support it hands down. But if they come up with more regulation with a thick gray area and no tolerance for accidental slip-ups, then we suspect we’ll be headed right back to the courts.