Senate Votes to Increase Indecency Fines

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — In a vote that could reshape the 1st Amendment landscape for broadcasters, the Senate voted to dramatically increase fines for indecency.

Under the legislation, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent — a legislative tool that allows a senator to pass legislation if no other member of the Senate objects — the fines for indecency will increase tenfold to $325,000 per infraction.

According to Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who sponsored the bill, broadcasters will think twice before they air indecent material.

“[Under this bill] broadcast indecency fines represent a real economic penalty and not just a slap on the wrist,” Brownback said.

The bill still needs approval from the House before it can go to President Bush for his signature. The House has proposed an even more stringent penalty, which would authorize a maximum fine of $500,000 per infraction and the threat of license revocation after three violations.

“We'll work together, and I don't think anything necessarily is a deal-stopper,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said. “I think the prospects are very good that we end up with something that both sides can support.”

Congress first began talking tough about broadcast indecency after the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show that featured Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction.”