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"We're moving in a direction of undermining the First Amendment."
——Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas

GOT THOSE FIRST AMENDMENT BLUES AGAIN

House Passes Legislation to Raise Maximum Indecency Fine to $500k

The First Amendment took another beating today.

By a vote of 391-22, the House passed legislation Thursday substantially increasing the maximum fine for radio and TV indecency, from $27,500 to $500,000.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

"I am tired of hearing parents tell me how they have to cover their children's ears," Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., said during debate on the measure. "Today, we're saying enough is enough."

With the fine for a performer jumping from $11k to $500k, could this be the beginning of the end of Howard Stern on terrestrial radio?

NAB President Edward O. Fritts noted that the industry has already scheduled an indecency summit for March 31.

"Voluntary industry initiatives are far preferable to government regulation when dealing with programming issues," Fritts said. "NAB does not support the bill as written, but we hear the call of legislators and are committed to taking voluntary action to address this issue."

Clear Channel Communications touted its own actions to address indecency.

The company bought equipment to provide for up to a 20-second delay for live broadcasts and announced new standards for its programs after receiving fines totalling more than $750k for shows hosted by the since-departed Tampa d.j. Bubba the Love Sponge.

"We hope never to face these higher fines because of the strong policy we've put in place," said Clear Channel EVP Andrew Levin.

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said the bill will give the FCC "the ammunition it needs" to enforce indecency standards.

The Bush administration strongly endorsed the bill in a memo to lawmakers Thursday.

Others weren’t so sure. "We're moving in a direction of undermining the First Amendment," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. That from a Republican, folks.

The Senate also has a bill that would raise fines to $500,000. The measure also orders the FCC to look at ways to protect children from violence on television and puts on hold sweeping media ownership changes adopted by the FCC last year.

Federal law and FCC rules prohibit over-the-air radio and TV stations from airing material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuned in. There are no such restrictions for cable and satellite TV and satellite radio. For now.

For a text of the bills, H.R. 3717 and S. 2056, click here. Federal Communications Commission indecency page can be accessed here.

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