June 2, 2006

House to vote on Senate decency bill next week

By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives
plans to vote next week on whether to adopt a Senate plan to
increase fines to $325,000 on television and radio broadcast
stations that violate decency standards, a senior House
official said on Friday.

Parents groups and some lawmakers have pressed for two
years for higher fines to discourage broadcasters from raising
the level of sexually provocative content or profanity.

The call for bigger fines came after pop singer Janet
Jackson's breast was briefly flashed during the 2004 Super Bowl
halftime entertainment show. Twenty CBS stations were fined a
total of $550,000 for that incident.

The House plans to begin debating the Senate measure on
Tuesday and vote on Wednesday, said Kevin Madden, spokesman for
House Majority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

The Senate approach would increase fines tenfold from the
current level of $32,500 per violation. The House last year
passed a stiffer measure that would boost fines to $500,000 per
incident and would require communications regulators to
consider revoking a station's license after three violations.

However, with relatively few congressional work days left
before the November elections, the chairman of the House Energy
and Commerce Committee Rep. Joe Barton recently said he was
willing to accept the Senate version of the decency measure.

Some conservative groups also have pressed the House to
adopt the Senate version of the bill.

Federal regulations bar obscene material from being aired
and limit broadcast television and radio stations from showing
indecent material, like sexually explicit scenes or profanity.
Indecent content is only allowed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
when children are less likely to be watching or listening.

The House version also would make it easier for the Federal
Communications Commission, which enforces the decency
standards, to fine individuals who violate the regulations.

Typically, when the Senate and House have different
versions of legislation, a negotiating committee is created to
reconcile the bills, which can be time-consuming. The
alternative is for one chamber to consider passing the other's

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of
Broadcasters, said, "In issues related to programming content,
NAB believes responsible self-regulation is preferable to
government regulation."