PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 3717, BROADCAST DECENCY ENFORCEMENT ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - March 11, 2004)
Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, by direction of the Committee on Rules, I call up House Resolution 554 and ask for its immediate consideration.
The Clerk read the resolution, as follows:
H. Res. 554
Resolved, That at any time after the adoption of this resolution the Speaker may, pursuant to clause 2(b) of rule XVIII, declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union for consideration of the bill (H.R. 3717) to increase the penalties for violations by television and radio broadcasters of the prohibitions against transmission of obscene, indecent, and profane language. The first reading of the bill shall be dispensed with. All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived. General debate shall be confined to the bill and shall not exceed ninety minutes equally divided and controlled by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. After general debate the bill shall be considered for amendment under the five-minute rule. It shall be in order to consider as an original bill for the purpose of amendment under the five-minute rule the amendment in the nature of a substitute recommended by the Committee on Energy and Commerce now printed in the bill. The committee amendment in the nature of a substitute shall be considered as read. All points of order against the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute are waived. No amendment to the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute shall be in order except those printed in the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution. Each such amendment may be offered only in the order printed in the report, may be offered only by a Member designated in the report, shall be considered as read, shall be debatable for the time specified in the report equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent, shall not be subject to amendment, and shall not be subject to a demand for division of the question in the House or in the Committee of the Whole. All points of order against such amendments are waived. At the conclusion of consideration of the bill for amendment the Committee shall rise and report the bill to the House with such amendments as may have been adopted. Any Member may demand a separate vote in the House on any amendment adopted in the Committee of the Whole to the bill or to the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill and amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except one motion to recommit with or without instructions.
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Goodlatte). The gentlewoman from
North Carolina (Mrs. Myrick) is recognized for 1 hour.
Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, for purposes of debate only, I yield the customary 30 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Frost); pending which I yield myself such time as I may consume. During consideration of this resolution, all time yielded is for the purpose of debate only.
On Tuesday, the Committee on Rules met and granted a structured rule for H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004. H.R. 3717 is a direct response to the increasing levels of indecency on broadcast television and radio. The bill has strong bipartisan support, with over 145 cosponsors, and is a comprehensive measure that is reasonable, fair and firm.
The problem of obscenity on TV has been going on for far too long. However, the Super Bowl brought it to national attention. On February 1, millions of families were at home watching the Super Bowl together. I myself was watching the game, cheering on my Carolina Panthers. This was a moment of pride for my district, and in one moment the attention was shifted.
I was appalled by the shameless stunt that took place during the Super Bowl. And the excuses I have heard ring very hollow. Obviously, if it was deliberate, then Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake thought they could get away with it.
Mr. Speaker, my constituents are very tired of having to cover over their children's eyes and ears every time they turn on the television set, especially during the time that is supposed to be considered family time.
H.R. 3717 the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004 raises the maximum penalty cap for broadcast stations, networks, and performers to $500,000 for each indecency violation. By significantly increasing the FCC fines for indecency, networks and individuals will do more than just apologize for airing such brazen material, they will be paying big bucks for their offenses.
I am very pleased that this legislation streamlines the Federal Communication Commission enforcement process for networks and individuals who willfully and intentionally put indecent material over the broadcast airwaves. So complaints do not languish at the FCC, the bill requires them to complete action on indecency complaints within 270 days of receipt. In the past, there have been examples where it has taken several years, and the broadcasters know they will not be taken to task until long after the offense is over.
I want to commend the chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Barton), for moving this legislation so swiftly through his committee. I also want to thank the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) for his resolve to protect our Nation's airwaves. He has been working on this issue for a long, long time.
Broadcast airwaves belong to the American people, not to the networks. So I believe it is time for Congress to defend and protect America's parents and children and pass a tough bill to ensure decency on the airwaves. To that end, I urge my colleagues to support the rule and the underlying bill.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. FROST. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
(Mr. FROST asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. FROST. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from North Carolina for yielding me this time, and I rise in support of the rule and the underlying bill. I do so because it is time to send a strong message to broadcasters that indecent television and radio programs are not okay.
For too long, the producers of indecent programming have regarded FCC fines as just a minor nuisance; as a cost of doing business. That attitude has to end. Congress needs to send a strong message to broadcasters that doing anything for profit, no matter how much it offends American viewers and harms the public interest, is definitely not okay.
Mr. Speaker, the basic principle of broadcasting in our country is that the American people grant private businesses the ability to make money while using our public airwaves. In exchange for a license, we ask that broadcasters air programs that serve the public interest, and we ask them not to broadcast indecent material at times when children are likely to be watching or listening. In other words, we have a social contract with our media companies. They can use the airwaves, but they must run their businesses in a socially responsible way. They must remember they have a duty to serve not only their shareholders but also the American people.
The reason we have special rules for radio and television programming is that the broadcast media is, in the words of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, "a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of all Americans."
When 100 million Americans, including myself, tuned into the Super Bowl, we allowed a broadcast company to enter the privacy of our homes. Just like any other guest, we welcomed them into our home. We expected the Super Bowl broadcast to be respectful of us and our families. We do not expect to agree with our house guests on everything, but we do expect them to show good judgment and to refrain from saying crude and offensive things, especially when children are in the room. What we all got on February 1 was anything but a good guest, Mr. Speaker.
Besides the now infamous incident involving Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, the half-time show was full of crude and sexually explicit performances. Throughout the game, we were subjected also to some offensive advertising. And all this was going on in our dens, our living rooms, and the other places we gather every year to watch the Super Bowl. It is estimated that one in five American children were watching this year's Super Bowl broadcast.
I would like to note, Mr. Speaker, that the actual Super Bowl game was one of the most exciting, best-played games in the 38-year history of the sporting event. Decided by a field goal kicked with 4 seconds left, this year's game had plenty of action and drama to sell itself on its own merits, without adding the controversial material that has provoked so much outrage for the past month.
To be fair, we should not be singling out the Super Bowl broadcast for our disapproval. When I drive around the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, I enjoy going up and down the radio dial to listen to many different stations that offer information and entertainment to the people of North Texas. I hear a lot of good programming, but I am also astonished at the amount of gratuitous foul language some talk show hosts use on a daily basis. The hosts of my favorite sports talk shows in the Dallas market seem to be using more and more offensive language.
I applaud the FCC commissioners for aggressively cracking down on this type of programming and hope that this legislation gives them a more effective enforcement tool.
I would also like to note that this problem goes beyond just the programming we receive in our homes from the FCC broadcast licensees. Congress does not currently have the same power to regulate the indecent content of cable programming as we do over broadcast programming. But all of us who have cable television know that there are cable network shows aired during family hours that are equally offensive and indecent. Although they operate under a regulatory system that would not be covered by the bill we are considering today, I urge the cable networks to remember that they have a social responsibility to the American people too.
Mr. Speaker, some people may be suggesting that with this bill and the speeches we are giving today, we are trying to censor speech or limit expression in our society. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a former broadcast journalist, and as the father of a broadcast journalist, I have a deep respect for the right of journalists, artists, political and religious leaders, and anyone else for that matter, to exercise their constitutional freedom of speech. Our communication laws on obscenity and indecency do not stop free speech or suppression. They simply say it is not always appropriate to broadcast crude and sexually explicit material into our homes and into our motor vehicles, especially when our children could be watching or listening.
I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill and the FCC's new efforts to take back our air waives from the people who have cynically decided the best way to sell advertising is by shocking and offending us. I have more faith in Americans than that. Voting for this bill is not just a vote to protect our families from indecent programming, it is also a vote in support of the vast majority of broadcasters, producers, and performers today who are running profitable businesses while broadcasting in a way that serves the interests of our families and our society.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Linder), a fellow member of the Committee on Rules.
Mr. LINDER. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this rule and thank the gentlewoman from North Carolina (Mrs. Myrick) for yielding me this time.
Mr. Speaker, H. Res. 554 is a fair and balanced rule that will provide House Members with the opportunity to consider a number of issues affecting our efforts to get indecent material off our airwaves. Under this rule, the House will have the opportunity to consider a manager's amendment by the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and an amendment by the gentlewoman from Illinois (Ms. Schakowsky) to strike the increased fine limit on entertainers, and an amendment by the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Sessions) to direct the General Accounting Office to provide a detailed report to Congress about the number of complaints about indecent broadcasting and the processes and procedures that the FCC has implemented to investigate these complaints.
With respect to H.R. 3717, the underlying legislation, I want to commend the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, for all of the time and effort he has invested in bringing this very important and well-crafted legislation to the House floor.
Vulgarity, profanity, and even obscenity are an all-too-common trend on our television and radio airwaves today. Originally, the Golden Globe Awards incident last year appeared to be an isolated event; however, the subsequent profanity during the Billboard Music Awards broadcast and the grossly inappropriate halftime show of the 2004 Super Bowl made clear that Congress needs to take action and give the FCC the tools it needs to crack down on such tawdry programming.
H.R. 3717 provides some of these tools for the FCC and is a step in the right direction. This legislation increases the penalties imposed for broadcast indecency, which allows the FCC to more authoritatively regulate on-air programming. Also, this bill makes it easier for the FCC to hold individuals subject to the same fines as broadcasters for indecent actions.
In conclusion, families must be able to watch prime-time TV together without the fear of watching obscene, profane, or vulgar programming; and H.R. 3717 will help make this a reality.
Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to support the rule so we may proceed to debate the underlying legislation.
Mr. FROST. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Stupak).
Mr. STUPAK. Mr. Speaker, the Committee on Rules has denied me and other Democrats the opportunity to offer amendments that are vital and directly relevant to the debate on eliminating indecent content on the public airwaves.
Americans should look at the link between the surge in complaints on indecent content on TV and radio and the increasing media consolidation that has occurred in recent years.
During the Committee on Energy and Commerce's three hearings on Indecency in the Media, it became apparent it is the media giants who are the greatest offenders of the FCC's indecency standard. The biggest FCC fines have gone to the biggest media players. In the past 5 years, 80 percent of the fines on violations of the FCC indecency standard were handed out to the media conglomerates.
I believe the increasing amount of indecent content on our public airwaves is a symptom of media consolidation, but the FCC never bothered to look at this possible link before they issued new rules last year to allow these media giants to get even bigger. The Parents Television Council noted this as well. Director Brent Bozell said after the FCC issued the new rules allowing more media consolidation, and I would like to quote him, he said, "The rules change means that a handful of megaconglomerates will impose their own standards of decency. They have been handed unfettered opportunity to broadcast violent and vulgar programming with impugnity."
My amendment would have delayed the FCC rules on media consolidation while the GAO conducted a thorough review of the correlation between indecent content on our public airwaves and media consolidation.
I had also offered a pared-down amendment that would have authorized a study without delaying the rules. I will still be seeking the GAO study, and I invite my colleagues to join me in this request I will be making later today.
The growing number of media monopolies is relevant to this indecency debate, and the Committee on Rules should not have denied me and others the opportunity to offer our amendments. I urge my colleagues to vote against this rule until we get the amendments that will help us further this debate.
Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton), the subcommittee chairman whose bill this is.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the Committee on Rules and the leadership for getting this bill on a fast track, and I want to compliment my colleagues on the Committee on Energy and Commerce. We acted very swiftly to get this bill to the floor. In fact, we passed the bill out 49 to 1 just last week.
I would like to say as well that I think this rule is a fair rule. I think the amendments will be debated fairly. I think that the membership of the House will respond to those amendments; and obviously my hope is to adopt the bill, the legislation, overwhelmingly at the end of the day.
I want to say to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Stupak) on media ownership, there will be a time and place for that debate. We had a little debate on this last year. There was a compromise that was made as part of the appropriations process. This issue is not going to go away, but I think it is imperative that we get this bill to the President's desk as fast we can.
The President did send a veto signal as a statement of administration policy last year on this very issue. If for some reason that amendment was attached to this bill, there is no question it would delay enactment of this bill. It is not in place to add that amendment to this bill. I accept what the Committee on Rules did yesterday. We had a good debate on it yesterday afternoon. I think they made a wise decision not to make that amendment in order, knowing there is another day and time when we can debate that issue.
Mr. Speaker, I compliment the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Stupak) for offering virtually the same amendment in full committee last week and then withdrawing that amendment even though a point of order had been raised.
I urge Members to support this fair rule so we can get this bill to the President's desk as fast as we can.
Mr. FROST. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner).
Mr. WEINER. Mr. Speaker, there are clearly some messages to take from recent events and the bill that is on the floor today. The overriding message is that there is a responsibility that comes with being entrusted to broadcast over the public airwaves.
People say if viewers do not like the content of a certain show and find it offensive, just do not watch. The problem with that argument is when content is being broadcast over public airwaves, it sometimes cannot be avoided. The fact is that people in this country surf and flip up and down channels on TV and radio. If we do not regulate what people can see and hear in these forums, children in particular will be exposed to material that is completely inappropriate.
While we, and broadcasters in particular, should take action to crack down on indecent material, we must not allow this focus on indecency to become a mission instead to do everything possible to gain favor with the FCC and their ultimate leader, President Bush. Being contrary to the government and offensive to the President and his campaign donors should not fall into the category of indecent material.
Unfortunately, the Clear Channel case with Howard Stern leaves that impression. Consider the facts: on February 25, Clear Channel announced that its radio stations would no longer carry the "Howard Stern Show," citing "indecent content" in Stern's February 24 radio broadcast. But nothing in Mr. Stern's recent shows has been cited for indecency, and it has been years since he has been fined by the FCC. Some commentators have said his show has been milder in recent months. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Stern's sponsors have not pulled their advertisements, meaning that the sponsors do not believe the show is across the line.
The only thing that has changed is that just 2 days before his suspension, Mr. Stern had become more critical of the Bush administration, an administration Clear Channel and its top executives have bank-rolled to the tune of $42,000 this election campaign cycle, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in years past.
Even more curious is the location where Mr. Stern's show is being dropped. Is it simple coincidence that political battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida are losing a popular critic of the Bush administration just as the election season begins?
While we are right to take action today to keep indecent material off the public airwaves, this should not be seen as open season on a diversity of views. If we only have radio personalities who are sympathetic to the President and his large corporate backers, then we will only have a small number of voices being heard, and all of them will be at the far right end of the radio dial.
Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 ½ minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Paul).
(Mr. PAUL asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the resolution, but I would like to express a few views on why I will oppose the legislation.
I am convinced that the Congress has been a very poor steward of the first amendment, and we are moving in the direction of further undermining the first amendment with this legislation.
First, many years ago, it was an attack on commercial speech by dividing commercial and noncommercial speech, which the Constitution does not permit. Then there was a systematic attack from the left, writing rules against hate speech which introduced the notion of political correctness. Recently, there was a petition to the Department of Justice that has asked the Department to evaluate "The Passion of Christ" as an example of hate speech. Unintended consequences do occur.
Next came along a coalition between right and left, and there was an attack on campaign speech with the campaign finance reform with a suspension of freedom of speech during an election period.
Now, once again, we are attacking indecency, which we all should, but how we do it is critical; because "indecency" is a subjective term, and it has yet to be defined by the courts.
We should remember that the Congress very clearly by the Constitution is instructed to: "make no laws abridging the freedom of speech." It cannot be any clearer. If we have problems with indecency they are to be solved in different manners. The excuse, because the government is responsible and owns the airwaves, that we can suspend the first amendment is incorrect. That is a good argument for privatizing the airwaves rather than an excuse for suspension of the first amendment.
I would like to close by quoting someone who is obviously not a libertarian and obviously not a liberal who has great concern about what we are doing, and he comes from the conservative right, Rush Limbaugh. He said: "If the government is going to 'censor' what they think is right and wrong, what happens if a whole bunch John Kerrys or Terry McAuliffes start running this country and decide conservative views are leading to violence? I am in the free speech business. It is one thing for a company to determine if they are going to be a party to it. It is another thing for the government to do it."
Mr. Speaker, we all should be in the free speech business.
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I am in support of this rule.
The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004, H.R. 3717, has overwhelming bipartisan support. H.R. 3717, which was adopted on a vote of 49 to 1 by my Committee, increases the Federal Communications Commission's authority to assess fines for indecent broadcasts. As Janet Jackson revealed to the entire Nation during the Super Bowl Halftime, broadcasters and performers have stopped minding the public's store, allowing all sorts of offensive material to travel across the public airways.
This is not a new problem. For years now, radio programming has gotten progressively more base, and within the last year and a half a number of so-called celebrities have let expletives fly on live broadcast television coverage of awards shows. Federal law already allows the FCC to assess fines on licensees and non-licensees for the broadcast of indecent content during hours when children are likely to be in the audience, and courts have made clear that the FCC's definition and regulation of indecent content is constitutional.
The problem, however, is that the FCC currently is authorized to assess a maximum fine of only $27,500 per violation on licensees, and $11,000 per violation on individuals. Such weak penalties amount to little more than a cost of doing business, and provide little to no deterrent. What's more, the FCC can only assess such fines on individuals on the second infraction, which means that celebrities such as Ms. Jackson get a free pass on the first offense should they do something indecent.
H.R. 3717 addresses these problems by raising the maximum fine to $500,000; permitting the FCC to consider revoking a broadcast license after the third offense; and allowing the FCC to fine an individual on the first offense. H.R. 3717 does not require such severe penalties, but gives the FCC needed discretion to tailor its sanctions to each particular offense. Perhaps this will send the message to broadcasters and individuals that indecency on our airwaves is no laughing matter. H.R. 3717 also imposes a shot clock on the FCC to ensure that these matters are resolved expeditiously.
Mr. Speaker, this is a fair rule, and I urge Members to support it.
Ms. WATSON. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to the rules for H.R. 3717. Yesterday I offered an amendment to the bill that would end industry-paid travel for commissioners and staff of the Federal Communications Commission once and for all. I am very disappointed that it was not made in order. In fact, 5 of the 6 amendments offered by my Democratic colleagues were not made in order. I hope my colleagues would join me in opposing this rule and request an open rule.
My amendment was a modified version of a bill that I introduced last year in response to a report documenting over $2.8 million in travel costs spent by FCC-regulated private companies for more than 2,500 trips taken by FCC commissioners and staff over the past 8 years. Such practices have contributed to the FCC's reputation as a "captured agency" controlled by the industries it regulates.
I am aware that Chairman Powell promised last fall to eliminate the practice of corporate sponsored travel, but I don't believe a one-time promise is strong enough to eliminate the practice once and for all. What if the commission decides to re-institute the policy in a few years? What if there is a change in the administration this fall, and we end up having a new chairman? There is no guarantee that what the FCC has decided to do is not just a way to wait out the storm caused by the report, and that it could revert back to the old arrangement any time.
I support granting the FCC the authority to impose severe penalties for indecent broadcasting, but we must also ensure that the Commission uses the new enforcement powers this bill would provide. One way to do so is to eliminate, once and for all, any potential conflict of interest caused by the practice of corporate sponsored travel for FCC travel. I hope my colleagues would join me in rejecting this rule and allow consideration of my amendment.
Mr. FROST. Mr. Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I yield back the balance of my time.
Mrs. MYRICK. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time, and I move the previous question on the resolution.
The previous question was ordered.
The resolution was agreed to.
A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.
The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mrs. Myrick). Pursuant to House Resolution 554 and rule XVIII, the Chair declares the House in the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union for the consideration of the bill, H.R. 3717.
IN THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Accordingly, the House resolved itself into the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union for the consideration of the bill (H.R. 3717) to increase the penalties for violations by television and radio broadcasters of the prohibitions against transmission of obscene, indecent, and profane language, with Mr. Goodlatte in the chair.
The Clerk read the title of the bill.
The CHAIRMAN. Pursuant to the rule, the bill is considered as having been read the first time.
Under the rule, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) each will control 45 minutes.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton).
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 5 minutes.
Mr. Chairman, I ask my colleagues to support this legislation this morning. This legislation actually appeared on my radar screen last year as we began to set our agenda for 2004. I introduced the legislation in early January, held our first hearing on the legislation before the Super Bowl, and the administration supports our bill. They sent us a statement that they supported our bill in committee, and I will include that Statement of Administration Policy as part of the RECORD in support of this legislation today.
Statement of Administration Policy
The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 3717. This legislation will make broadcast television and radio more suitable for family viewing by giving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the authority to impose meaningful penalties on broadcasters that air obscene or indecent material over the public airwaves. In particular, the Administration applauds the inclusion in the bill of its proposal to require that the FCC consider whether inappropriate material has been aired during children's television programming in determining the fine to be imposed for violations of the law. The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with the Congress to make appropriate adjustments to the language of the bill as it moves through the legislative process.
I remember a speech well by Michael Powell, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, where he said the fines under current law are peanuts. It is a cost of doing business. They are not high enough.
In fact, in the hearings that we held, we discovered that by the time you saddle up some of those attorneys at the Department of Justice and send them out to file a claim in Federal Court to go after the dollars that the FCC might have fined, they are not going to recoup their costs.
The Upton-Markey-Tauzin-Dingell-Barton bill has been cosponsored by more than 140 Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats. Chairman Powell and his four other commissioners, two Republicans and two Democrats, when you look at their statements in support of this legislation, when you look at their statements as they imposed fines on broadcasters who cross that line, every one of them, Republican or Democrat, has lamented the fact that they cannot raise the fines higher than they are under current law, a maximum of only $27,500.
Because of the legislation we pursued on a strong bipartisan basis, and again, I commend my colleagues on the other side, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) and the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell), we were able to pass this legislation out of the Committee on Energy and Commerce last week on a recorded vote of 49 to 1. The other body is beginning to move as well. They passed their legislation out 34 to 0.
Our bill was strengthened in the full committee markup. We added a provision on three-strikes-and-you-are-out. That is, if you are a repeat offender, a broadcaster, and you go through three series of fines violating the current standard, there is set up an automatic revocation hearing to take away that license.
We established a "shot clock" so that the FCC has to act on complaints within a certain number of days. We protected affiliated broadcasters. They do not always know what is coming down the pike in terms of what they are broadcasting. We raised the fine from the initial bill as I introduced it of $275,000 for the maximum fine to $500,000. We added a provision asking for the National Association of Broadcasters to make part of their code a Broadcast Decency Code, something they had years ago and was struck under antitrust violations.
We also added a provision making the performers, the talent, liable for their own words. You cannot tell me that they do not know what the standards are. I have heard them whine, I have heard them take out that violin and whine about what this bill will do. Well, guess what, Mr. Chairman? It is time to take away that violin and give them the fork. They are done. This ought to stop.
Guess what? Our bill does nothing to change existing standards. Zero. Nada. Not a thing. I would note that the 1927 Radio Act has held up in the courts for more than 75 years. The FCC has the authority to punish those who air obscene, indecent or profane language. It has been upheld by the Supreme Court, who ruled in 1978 that the government does have the right to regulate indecent broadcasts and to, in fact, establish a definition of indecency that remains the FCC's guiding principle.
There is language, material, that describes sexual or excretory material or organs, and it is deemed patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards. In the mid 1990s, the court limited the ban on indecent airing between the hours of 6:00 in the morning and 10:00 at night, when kids are most likely to be watching or listening.
This legislation pertains only to broadcast radio or TV. Why is that? Because it is the public airwaves, that is why. And for those that challenge the standards that are out there and do not realize what some of these broadcasters have said, I would ask them to come see me during the next couple of hours of debate on the floor, because with me I have a notebook, and in that notebook we have the specific language that broadcasters have used in defiance of the law.
You cannot tell me that this stuff should be on the air. It should not be. We need to make sure we stop it, and we do, in its tracks.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 7 minutes.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this legislation. This is a bipartisan bill that the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, led by the gentleman from Michigan (Chairman UPTON) and the Chairman of the full committee, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Barton), have put together, working in conjunction with the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell) and myself and the other members of the minority on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, working in a bipartisan fashion, in order to craft a bill related to the broadcast radio and television obscenity and decency and profanity issues.
Mr. Chairman, at the outset, I would like to note that this legislation was introduced before the Super Bowl this year, not after. It was an issue that had already percolated up to the attention of the American public and to our subcommittee, and we had already decided that extra attention needed to be paid to the Federal Communications Commission and its lack of enforcement of these very important provisions.
The Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held three hearings on this issue, and from our hearings we confirmed a number of things. We have learned that although the Federal Communications Commission is charged with ensuring that licensees serve the public interest and that the stations do not air obscene, indecent or profane content in violation of the law and Commission rules, that until very recently, the Commission has not been an aggressive enforcer of the rules. Testimony from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell indicates that cases are still languishing from 2 to 3 years ago.
We also learned that although the Federal Communications Commission has numerous enforcement tools, including the ability to revoke a station license, it appears as though the industry has largely concluded that the Federal Communications Commission is a paper tiger. The rare and paltry fines the Commission assesses have become nothing more than a joke within the broadcast industry, and the Commission never raises license revocation as a consequence for repeated indecency violations, even in the most egregious cases of these repeat violators. This legislation will help us to address the serious enforcement shortcomings at the Federal Communications Commission that we have identified.
Finally, we have also learned that the industry needs to do a better job in educating parents about the tools that already may be in their hands that parents can utilize to address the myriad concerns they raise with us about what is on television. Parents can use the television rating system and the V-Chip, which stems from legislation which I authored as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
However, we have a huge educational challenge with the TV ratings system and how parents can use it in conjunction with the V-Chip. Studies indicate that if a parent of a child 12 and under has a V-Chip-ready TV and knows this, that some 47 percent of such parents use the V-Chip, and they like it, because it allows them to program their TV set for their children 12 and under. Almost all of these parents who know about it are enthused about it. The problem is with the qualifiers. Almost half of those who have bought the approximately 100 million V-Chip capable televisions since 2000 are not aware that they possess a television set with a V-Chip in it.
In addition, many of these parents express confusion over the TV rating system itself, and one major network, NBC, still does not use the comprehensive rating system utilized by everyone else in the television industry. The industry did a good job with much fanfare after the TV rating system was initially finalized, in doing public service announcements and other educational messages regarding the ratings. Yet those efforts have waned in recent years.
In my view, we need a comprehensive, industry-wide campaign to address this issue. The TV set manufacturers and the electronic retailers need to do a better job in alerting television buyers to the V-Chip, in part because many retail employees at these stores who sell TV sets are apparently unaware that the TV sets have a V-Chip in it. In addition, print media ought to include the television ratings of programs in the television guide so that parents see them when they look up what is on television that day or that evening.
Finally, I believe the broadcast industry should renew its educational efforts on the television ratings system and also consider a number of other ideas to better assist parents, which I will address to our television networks on an ongoing basis, in order to ensure that they know that this is an issue that Americans care about.
At our recent hearings, I challenged the industry to do several things to better help parents understand the TV rating system:
First, use the V-Chip and utilize available per-channel blocking technologies on cable television.
I requested that the television industry increase its public service advertisements about the television rating system and the V-Chip. I am happy to report that many, many industry participants on the networks and cable operators have agreed to do so, with some, such as Fox Television, including print advertising in their campaign as well.
I will come back in a while and outline what is happening in the rest of the television and cable industry, but I think it is important for the Congress to pass this legislation, and then to keep up the pressure so that parents are given the tools that they need in order to protect the sights and the sounds which their children are exposed to.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from the good State of Indiana (Mr. Buyer), a member of the subcommittee, a cosponsor of the bill, and a very helpful force in getting this bill to the floor.
Mr. BUYER. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 3717. Every second of every day and in almost everything we do we are confronted by a multitude of images, some of which benefit our lives, others which do just the complete opposite.
We live at a time when 98 percent of the households have one or more television sets. As of 2001, there were over 100 million Americans on-line, with almost half of all of U.S. households with Internet access. This new media has enriched our lives. It has given up-to-the-very-minute news reports from around the world, television shows that both educate and entertain, and Web sites that have every answer to every question posed, it seems.
However, unfortunately, there is a negative side, those Web sites whose sole purpose is to satiate the prurient interests of its viewers, television programs that play to the lowest denominator of decency. There are those who seek to test the boundaries, and those who try to ignite a firestorm, so the 24-hour news stations have something to report on at 3 a.m., or attempt to revitalize a career by shocking viewers. It is these images, the ones we shield our children from, that this legislation seeks to penalize.
This legislation was not born out of an isolated incident from a Super Bowl. It is not a hasty reaction to that at all.
This is a very serious level of effort that has lasted over the last year.
We are raising the fine so that it is feasible and equitable for the government to enforce standards of decency. We are allowing the independent broadcasters who have no control over what they air to avoid liability. We are looking to the individual, who willfully and intentionally defies the law, to be held accountable.
There are some who claim that we are towing the line of censorship; that that is the next step and we will go too far. However, I place the onus upon the network, the broadcasters, the entertainers, and the Web site managers to be their own guideposts of the Constitution and community standards.
Governments should not be the decency police, but when laws are defied, we are required to step in and enforce the law.
I support this bill and I want to compliment the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) and also the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) for the bill.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Green).
Mr. GREEN of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I yield to my colleague from California (Mr. Waxman.)
Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Green) for yielding to me.
I want to take 1 minute to say that the broadcasters have an interest in protecting the public's rights, but what are we doing about the concentration of power in the media? What are we doing about the lack of a fairness doctrine or equal time, especially at a time when we have the most important election with the political debate that ought to be honest, really fair and balanced, not just for some broadcaster to tell us it is fair and balanced when it is not? What are we doing about children's programs?
Instead of dealing with those issues, we have a bill to increase the penalties for indecency on the airwaves while the FCC is already not enforcing the penalties they have at their disposal.
I think we ought to recognize that if people feel they are doing something really important with this legislation, then I think it only opens the door to more government interference in free speech on the airwaves, and that it is somewhat hypocritical for the public to think we are doing something about the important issues in the broadcasting area when we are not even addressing, and the Republican leadership has stopped us from addressing, the concentration of the media in all these other matters.
Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding. I plan to vote no on the bill.
Mr. GREEN of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Broadcast Decency and Enforcement Act of 2004, which is a bipartisan product of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Both the ranking member, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. MARKEY) and our chairman, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. UPTON), have produced a good bill incorporating ideas of a number of Members.
Let me say in response to my colleague from California, I noticed a substantial change in the last 2 months with the Federal Communications Commission. And I will talk about that a little bit. That without this legislation increasing the penalties, without the hearings we held, we would not see renewed vigor and renewed interest by the FCC enforcing the decency standards.
And so, that is why even though the bill basically just increases the fines, what it did was it brought attention to the issue along with what has happened with our media outlets all across the country, I think, culminated in with what I think my colleague from New England would agree, was a great Super Bowl football game, but was eclipsed by what happened at half time.
So, granted, this bill raises the penalties, but it also brought the attention of the regulators and a renewed vigor in enforcing the current law.
It also includes an accountability in the bill that allows broadcast TV affiliates to place liability for content provided by the networks when the affiliates had little or no input on programming.
Again, I want to thank the chairman and the ranking member for working with me on this provision. We ought to make the penalties be where the people are making the decisions on the content, and not someone who just happens to have a license, who would not want the Super Bowl.
The legislation also reaffirms the authority of the FCC to evaluate the licenses for television, radio, or broadcasters that repeatedly run afoul of FCC's indecency standards. Congress is not creating a new standard for content for public airwaves, we are only requiring that the current standards be enforced in a meaningful way.
I think many radio and television broadcasters and cable and satellite providers are taking significant steps to respond to the American public on this issue. Broadcasters are going to convene a decency submit at the end of this month. The sickest radio shock jock, Bubba the Love Sponge, is off the air. The television networks are going to delayed feed for live shows so we will not have any accidents as we saw at the Super Bowl.
The cable and satellite providers are stepping up efforts to educate their customers about their ability to block out channels they do not want to receive. And I hope these industry actions continue, and combined with our legislation, will cause the increasing indecency of broadcast content over the past few years to be reversed.
In Congress, we can get back to our important things. And this I do agree with my California colleague on reducing the national debt, creating more American jobs, expanding health care for our needy children.
The FCC has never been particularly motivated on the indecency cases, but in the last 3 years, complaints have increased so substantially, and after these hearings, now the Commission has seen a renewed interest in enforcement, particularly, again, after the hearings. And hopefully our action today will get the Commission in an even more aggressive motion.
Again, the ranking member, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. MARKEY), the chairman, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. UPTON), the ranking member, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. DINGELL), and our new chairman, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. BARTON) are to be commended on their work here today. I urge my colleagues to approve the legislation.
Mr. Chairman, I would just briefly say something about our immediate past chairman. I think all of us send our prayers and our hope to the chairman, the gentleman from Louisiana (Mr. TAUZIN) on his treatment and his surgery for his illness that was announced this week. Again, as a Democrat, we worked together typically on our committee, and all of us hope that the gentleman and his family are successful in being treated. Again, I yield back my time.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from the State of Pennsylvania (Mr. Pitts), a very active member on this issue, an original cosponsor, one that has helped in many ways to get this bill to the floor.
Mr. PITTS. Mr. Chairman, it is about time that we act on broadcast indecency. First I want to commend and thank the chairman, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) for his steadfast leadership on this issue. He has been one of the primary reasons for its success.
This is not a new issue. Parents have been pleading with us to take action on this issue for years. Unfortunately, it took the use of the four letter word on network TV and Janet Jackson's indecent exposure at the Super Bowl and Howard Stern's foul and racist language to push us into action.
I, for one, am tired of parents telling me how they need to cover their children's eyes and ears often too late because of the unacceptable language that has infiltrated television and radio. For too long, we have told the entertainment industry that the Federal Government is unwilling to hold them accountable for their actions.
Today we are saying enough is enough. H.R. 3717 sends a clear signal to the entertainment industry, we are no longer going to stand idly by and force our parents to put up with this filth.
H.R. 3717 is a good bill. Serious fines ensure that the FCC has the freedom to truly hit these huge companies where it hurts. And one of the most important provisions in the bill was added by my friend, the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Pickering), the three-strikes-and-you-are-out provision. It allows broadcast licensees up to two broadcast indecency violations. On the third, proceedings for license revocation will begin. And this provision will make it clear that Congress is not going to put up with multiple violators.
Mr. Chairman, families are sick and tired of worrying about what their children may see or hear every time they turn on television. They are frustrated that the media and industry has seemingly been able to broadcast any type of behavior or speech they feel will bring in advertising dollars. Meanwhile, they feel that the Federal Government has sided with the media elites and turned a blind eye to the concerns of ordinary mom and dads.
To American parents, Congress has finally heard you. We will no longer stand idly by on this topic. As one of our Members said, if the entertainment industry cannot police themselves, we will do it for them. So I thank the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton), I thank the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), and the leadership of the committee for moving this important bill.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Wynn), who added two very important amendments to this legislation.
Mr. WYNN. Mr. Chairman, I would also like to thank the ranking member, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), for allowing me to have this time.
I rise in strong support of this piece of legislation. I would also add in my thanks to the chairman, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Barton) and my thanks to the ranking member, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell) for working with me on some amendments that I do believe strengthen this bill.
I think this is a very important issue for our country and our society. I do not think Congressmen should be the overseers of morality, I do not think Congress people are in a position to dictate censorship; but I do believe we are in a position to say that there ought to be some standards for decency in this country on broadcast TV.
You see, unlike cable TV, which we invite into our homes, broadcast TV is ubiquitous. It is a public asset which we give away free to broadcasters to make a great deal of money. Because of that relationship, I believe they should adhere to high standards of decency, particularly during family viewing hours. That is why I think this bill is so important.
I think the situation at the Super Bowl was only a small example of some of the things that American families are concerned about. We have to ask the question, will we sink to the lowest common denominator, the lewdest, most lascivious type of content, or will we say there are standards that have to be balanced. I think this bill says yes, there have to be standards.
Let me tell you, from the Baptist church to the barber shop, people are saying this is the right thing to do. This bill strengthens penalties against broadcasters and others who engage in indecent content, indecent speech over public broadcast airwaves during family hours. And I think it is very appropriate.
I worked with other members, my colleague, the gentlewoman from New Mexico (Mrs. Wilson), as well as my colleague, the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Pickering) on the Republican side, to add some strengthening measures in this legislation. Specifically, current law provides a presumption of license renewal. We should not have that presumption. We have now modified that. There is no presumption if there is evidence of incidents of indecent broadcasting.
Similarly, routinely broadcasters have their licenses renewed. We believe that after three strikes, there ought to be an automatic revocation proceeding in which the merits of your conduct are examined before your license is renewed.
As I said at the onset, this is a very important issue for our society. It describes the type of people we are. We are not censors, we are not morality police, but we are fair and decent people who care about what our children see and what they are exposed to.