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US Senate approves raising fines against indecent programming

Jesse J Holland | June 21, 2004

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake during the half-time show of Super Bowl XXXVIII February 2004
Photo - AFP
WASHINGTON — Disgusted by racy language, explicit scenes and skin-baring outfits, the Senate overwhelmingly agreed on Tuesday to fine U.S. radio and television broadcasters and show business personalities as much as $3 million a day for airing indecent entertainment.

Faced with public uproar stoked by Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake's "wardrobe malfunction" at this year's Super Bowl football game, the Senate rushed the bill through on a 99-1 vote without floor debate.

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback said the issue has been debated enough. Lawmakers have continually criticized broadcasters for airing what they say is increasingly coarse programming that can be seen or heard by children.

"People are tired of this indecent material on over-the-air public broadcast, particularly during prime time when people's families are watching," said Brownback, the bill's sponsor. "We're going to have to take action because the broadcasters won't police themselves."

Under the measure, the maximum fine for both broadcasters and entertainers would increase to up to $275,000 per indecent incident, up from $27,500 for license holders and $11,000 for personalities. The fines would keep increasing for each incident until a maximum fine of $3 million a day is reached.

The House of Representatives passed a similar bill that would set fines at $500,000. Differences between the two bills must be worked out.

The Senate moved the measure without debate as part of the massive defense bill expected to be approved later this week.

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 tuned in. No such restrictions exist for cable and satellite TV or satellite radio.

The FCC currently has no power to regulate those channels, which are available through subscription to the 85 percent of the 108.4 million U.S. households with televisions.

Introduced in January, after FCC Chairman Michael Powell demanded higher fines, the bill wound up on a fast track to passage after the Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show that ended with Timberlake partially exposing Jackson's breast for an instant to 90 million viewers. – Sapa-AP

Related links stories
Jackson's prime-time breast show sparks indecent inquiry [03/02/32004]




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