Congress votes to increase fines for indecency to $500,000
3/4/2004 9:18 AM
Byline: Mike Cunningham
A committee in Congress has voted to raise indecency violations from 27.500 per incident to $500,000. Here is a letter to my congressman, Bob Brady.
I am writing in regards to the recent Congressional activities regarding Broadcasters, in particular the recent vote of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to increase Indecency Violations fines from $27,500 to $500,000 (an increase of over 18 times) may seem to be consistent with the vitriol expressed by members of the Right side of the House, but it is both un-fair and with out merit.
First, the fine does not take into consideration the broadcaster's ability to pay such a fine. In the case of a major corporation that owns the station, they may have a huge pockets from which to take this money, but it does not take into consideration the market size the incident may have occurred in.
In addition, current FCC rules are too broad to adequately enforce community standards. Currently, the rules only require 1 complaint from 1 person (who may or may not have listened to the program.) There is no requirement even for transcript or tape. According to their rules: "The Commission and/or the Enforcement Bureau have proposed or assessed monetary forfeitures in cases where the complaint did not include a tape or transcript of the actual broadcast". For a broadcaster like Howard Stern who is broadcast on 35 stations across the United States (down from 41 after Clear Channel "banned him"), one person can jot down "context" of a conversation or an excerpt from a song, and post this on a web-site, e-mail, or newsletter and someone in EACH market (who did not listen to the program).
There is very little recourse and due process for a broadcaster. Any appeal of a fine or non-payment would hold up their ability to do business (acquiring other radio stations, etc).
I am not arguing regarding what is indecent speech nor the safe-haven time slots. What I am arguing that the current rules for these violations are too vague and NEED to be corrected as they are. The proposed fines make headlines during an election year, could cripple a broadcaster who wants to fight such a fine. It is thus a de facto elimination of the First Amendment. And that, Representative Brady is Unamerican.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this e-mail. I would be available for a conversation further if needed.
Thank you for your time,
Michael J. Cunningham