Sen. Stevens Needs a Bridge to Decency

Has anybody forgotten the outrage over CBS’s 2004 Super Bowl halftime program featuring Janet Jackson’s feigned “wardrobe malfunction”? Viewers kicked-off 525,000 complaints to the FCC, more than any other show in broadcast history has produced.

Apparently Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) is suffering a selective-memory-malfunction and needs a reminder that Americans continue to want Congress to pass legislation that strengthens the FCC’s enforcement efforts by increasing the fines for violators.

Stevens says he doesn’t see any of the four indecency-related bills stalled in his committee, including boosting indecency fines and enforcement, going forward: “As far as I’m concerned, none of them have enough support for us to move as long as this process works,” as he is quoted in Broadcasting and Cable (Dec. 12, 2005).

After the Super-malfunction in January 2004, Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) introduced S. 2056 within weeks. The bill would have increased the penalties for broadcasting obscene, indecent and profane language on radio and television from $27,500 to $275,000, not to exceed a total of $3 million.

S. 2056 had 20 co-sponsors, Democrats and Republicans, including Sen. (My-Memory’s- Still-Intact) Stevens. Failure to pass S. 2056 was inevitable after Stevens added complex language about media ownership, a controversial subject.

Things went better in the House of Representatives where Rep. Fred Upton (R.-Mich.) introduced H.R. 310 with 67 Republican and Democrat co-sponsors. It raised the maximum indecency fine to $500,000 per violation. The House passed H.R. 310 on February 16, 2005, by a vote of 389-38. It too stalled in the Senate.

Sen. Brownback tried again and introduced S. 193 on Jan. 26, 2005. It would increase the penalties for television and radio broadcasters who are liable for broadcasting obscene, indecent and profane language to $325,000 for each violation, not to exceed a total of $3 million for a continuing violation. It has 27 co-sponsors, Republicans and Democrats.

Stevens, who chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is refusing to hold a hearing on S. 193, which prevents it from crossing the bridge from his committee to the full Senate for a vote.

If Stevens really believes there is not enough public support, then why is he wasting time and resources holding hearings on indecency?

While S. 193 languishes in his committee, Stevens has starred in three dog-and-pony-show hearings on the subject of “decency” and Internet pornography, where he praised Jack Valente, former head of the indecency brigade otherwise known as the Motion Picture Association of America.

At the last hearing on January 19, Stevens announced that there would be a total of 15 hearings to explore “voluntary standards” by the “industry.” Stevens said he “believe[s] these voluntary efforts may result in the kind of choice and the kind of controls that parents have requested and that family groups have demanded.” Stevens says he wants to avoid legislation because “whatever we mandate is going to go to court.”

Even if it were true, why is being held up in court worse than being held up in Stevens’ committee? At least in court, Americans who are fed up with the entertainment sludge oozing into their homes on publicly owned airwaves have a chance of winning.

Stevens, you may recall, pushed for Senate funding to build a $2 billion bridge to a sparsely populated village in his home state. You’d think he might make the connection between collecting bigger fines from lawbreakers and bridge-building.

Stevens also strongly favors legislation that would allow oil companies to drill beneath the 100-mile coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska as long as there are “government-imposed restrictions.” If the legislation is ever passed, doesn’t Stevens fear losing to oil companies in court if they challenge those “government-imposed restrictions”?

Maybe Stevens should just hold hearings on voluntary standards for oil companies. He could call them the “Dipstick Hearings.” I bet oil-company execs can be just as sincere and persuasive about protecting the pristine environment for otters in Alaska as Valente and company are about keeping sludge out of American homes.

Americans continue to express their dissatisfaction with indecent broadcasts. According to the Billboard Radio Monitor, February 16, 2006, the public filed 233,471 complaints about radio and TV indecency in 2005.

The FCC has made it much easier to file a complaint concerning obscene, indecent and profane content on television and radio. You may access a complaint form online at: www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints_obscene.html.

If Stevens were serious about combating indecency, he would begin by moving S. 193. Instead he promises the public more re-runs of his hollow hearings and political pretense.

If you’re sick of Stevens’ stall on S. 193, let him know and let your senators know, too.


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