Indecency is back on the Congressional agenda.
Sen. Sam Brownback, (R-Kan;) motivated the Senate to vote 99-1 last week on his bill to raise the maximum penalties for broadcasters that violate federal decency standards. The measure includes a tenfold increase in maximum fines for each violation, to $275,000 from $27,500. The lone dissenter was Sen. John B. Breaux, (D-La;), who has been a consistent broadcaster ally.
The House passed a similar bill that would set fines at $500,000. Differences between the two bills must be worked out, again in a conference committee as part of the defense appropriations bill.
Federal law and FCC rules prohibit over-the-air radio and television stations from airing offensive material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., hours when children are more likely to be in bed.
No such restrictions exist for cable and satellite TV or satellite radio. The FCC has no power to regulate those channels, which are available through subscription to 85 percent of the 108.4 million U.S. households with televisions.