February 27, 2006

Senior Democrat pushes expansion on indecency bill

By Brooks Boliek

WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter) - A senior Democratic
senator plans to force a series of votes on indecency
legislation when the Senate Commerce Committee takes up a
broad-based telecommunications reform bill in the spring, an
aide said Monday.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison,
R-Texas, have introduced legislation that seeks to expand
indecency regulations to cable and satellite TV providers,
include violent content under the same regulations as indecent
content and codify the current children's television rules.

"Sen. Rockefeller plans to offer his bill, in totality, or
section-by-section, as amendments to the telecom bill as this
goes forward," James Reid, the senator's telecommunications
policy aide, told a National Assn. of Broadcasters conference.

Hutchison was taking a wait-and-see position.

"We're just going to wait for the markup," Hutchison
spokesman Chris Paulitz said.

Reid said his boss wanted to get an on-the-record vote on
the legislation this year. It was unclear if Hutchison also
would attempt to force the senators to have a recorded vote on
those issues.

Industry executives and some Senate staffers questioned
Rockefeller's commitment to push the issue.

"It's no secret that he is pissed at Sen. (Ted) Stevens
(R-Alaska) because Stevens hasn't given him what he wants on
the issue," said one aide, referring to the chairman of the
Senate Commerce Committee.

Industry executives think the effort is unlikely to gain
any traction, even if Rockefeller forces a vote on the issue.

"There's no way that's going anywhere," one broadcast
industry lobbyist said.

After a series of hearings, Stevens has decided to let the
issue sit for a while until after an industry-wide PR effort
aimed at educating consumers about their options to block
programming has had time to work.

Legislation increasing the fines for indecent speech
broadcast over-the-air has been languishing in the Senate. The
House already approved its version of the legislation that
would raise the fine from $32,500 to $500,000 for a company and
from $11,000 to $500,000 for an individual entertainer. The
bill also removes an FCC provision that gave individuals a
warning before issuing a fine.

As defined by the FCC and the courts, material is indecent
if it "in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory
activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured
by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium."

While obscene speech has no constitutional protection,
indecent speech does. It can be aired between 10 p.m.-6 a.m. --
when few children are in the audience.

The FCC is expected to announce soon its decision to stick
by its ruling to slap CBS with a $550,000 fine for the Janet
Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl
halftime show.

CBS had appealed the FCC's fine against 20 of its stations
for Jackson's brief breast exposure during the Super Bowl
halftime show two years ago, but the agency is expected to
affirm the decision.

The agency also could propose new sanctions against Fox,
NBC and CBS TV stations or affiliates for violating decency
standards, sources said, with one of the decisions possibly
involving an appearance by Nicole Richie on the 2003 Billboard
Music Awards on Fox.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter