On June 15, President Bush signed the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2006, a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Congressman Fred Upton from Michigan.
The Act doesn’t change the broadcast decency standards currently on the books. However, according to the Federal Communications Commission, it gives it the means to enforce the standards more effectively by levying stiffer and more meaningful fines on broadcasters who violate decency standards.
The law increases broadcaster liability for airing offensive material by a factor of ten, raising fines to $325,000 per individual infraction, not to exceed $3 million per violation. A violation is defined by the Federal Communications Commission as sexual or excretory content of a “patently offensive nature” between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. The expectation is that hefty fines will encourage multibillion-dollar broadcast companies to keep the public airwaves free of obscene, profane and indecent material.
Stiffer fines come two and a half years after the most memorable example of inappropriate material on the public airwaves, the Janet Jackson stunt broadcast during the live 2004 Super Bowl half-time show.
This law also seems to reflect the sentiment of the American people. Several recent surveys and polls make it clear that viewers and listeners want offensive material taken off the public airwaves. A recent Time Magazine poll finds that 68% of those polled believe the entertainment industry has lost touch with the American audiences’ moral standards. In a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 75% of the 1,505 adults polled want to see tighter enforcement of government rules on broadcast content, particularly when children are most likely to be watching or listening; 69% approve of higher fines for media companies; and 60% agree broadcast indecency standards should be extended to cable and satellite TV and radio.
Cable and satellite TV and radio are not subject to the Decency Enforcement Act of 2006, that’s where controversial broadcasters like Howard Stern have found a home. But stay tuned, the next Congressional bill could change Stern’s future and the future of those on cable and satellite TV and radio.