This bill, I think, strikes a proper balance by giving some real teeth to the enforcement process and providing incentives for broadcasters to be more conscious, to be more aware of public sensibilities. I think we have done the right thing. I am very proud and pleased to support this legislation.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 5 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Barton), the distinguished chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, my friend and colleague.
(Mr. BARTON of Texas asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. BARTON of Texas. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004. And I want to compliment the subcommittee chairman, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and the ranking member, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) for their strong leadership on this issue as well as the ranking full committee member, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell). They have all worked very well and very positively on this very important legislation.
This bill has strong bipartisan support, 145 cosponsors in the House. It was reported out of the committee last week 49 to 1. The bill has been dubbed the "Super Bowl Bill," but what many people I think do not realize is that H.R. 3717 was well on its way before the antics that we witnessed during the Super Bowl half-time show.
In fact, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) had already held a hearing on it before the Super Bowl show occurred. But after that event did occur, one thing is absolutely crystal clear: This bill answers the call that we have heard from parents around the country, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of them, who are begging for some help. H.R. 3717 will make living rooms safe again all over America.
We have been bombarded in recent past with indecent language and images over and over again. Between the use of an expletive by Bono at the 2003 Golden Globe Awards, Nicole Ritchie's string of expletives at the 2003 Billboard Awards, Janet Jackson's infamous performance during the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show, and innumerable instances of graphic sexual broadcasts by radio "shock jocks," parents want and demand help.
There is a clear need to provide the FCC with increased authority to hold all parties responsible for their actions. H.R. 3717 targets broadcast indecency by doing the following: Number one, it raises the maximum penalty cap for broadcast stations, networks, and performers to $500,000 for each indecency violation.
Number two, it sets out specific factors the FCC must consider when setting fines so that the FCC must examine whether the violator is a small or large broadcaster, a company or an individual, and what entity is responsible for the indecent programming.
Three, it streamlines the FCC enforcement process for networks and individuals who "willfully and intentionally" put indecent material over broadcast airwaves so that the FCC can prosecute on the first instance, instead of having to wait for a second violation. Now everyone, including performers, will be held responsible for their action from the get-go.
Four, the bill requires the FCC to complete an action on indecency complaints within 270 days of receipt so that complaints do not languish at the FCC. In addition to collecting fines for indecency, the bill gives the FCC the authority to require broadcasters to air public service announcements to reverse harm from indecent programming.
This is an idea that came from the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), and it is a very good idea.
Five, it requires the FCC to take indecency violations into account during license applications, renewals and modifications.
This idea came from the gentlewoman from New Mexico (Ms. Wilson).
Number six, after three indecency violations, the bill would require the FCC to hold a hearing to consider revoking the broadcast station license, the gravest of penalties for a broadcaster. That idea, among others, came from the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Stearns).
Seventh and finally, the bill requires the FCC to report annually to Congress on the progress it is making as a result of legislation.
Mr. Chairman, H.R. 3717 makes great strides in our effort to clean up the broadcast airwaves and return them to the decent Americans of our country. I urge all of my colleagues to support it.
Before I conclude, let me say that on the Schakowsky amendment I am going to strongly oppose that particular amendment. I think it is absolutely constitutional that performers themselves can be held accountable in the first instance and not after the second instance after the so-called "warning ticket" approach. So I will strongly oppose the Schakowsky amendment and then strongly support passage of the final bill.
I thank the chairman for his strong leadership on the bill.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 4 minutes to the gentlewoman from Los Angeles, California (Ms. Watson).
Ms. WATSON. Mr. Chairman, very quickly, I want all to know that I rise in support of H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004, but I am sorry that this was a closed rule on that bill. There are a couple of points I wanted to make.
I have received a letter from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on behalf of 80,000 actors, broadcast journalists, announcers, disc jockeys, and sound recording artists saying that they are asking us to reject the provisions of the bill that would fine individual performers and announcers for the programming decisions controlled and implemented by the broadcast licensees. And I would ask my colleagues to think about that particular provision. I understand we have already voted on the rule.
The next point I wanted to make is that since the FCC has already allowed the major networks to own up to 45 percent of the market, I feel that that is the root cause for some of this indecency that we hear through the media. And it is important for us to recognize that this bill taps into the underlying anger of over 2 million individuals who wrote to the FCC last summer opposing its relaxation of media ownership rules. And I just want to mention some shocking statistics that illustrate the connection between indecency and media concentration.
The 1996 Communications Act cleared the way for relaxing some media ownership limits. Since then, complaints received by the FCC regarding indecent programs on television have jumped from 26 in the year 2000 to 217 in the year 2003. Clear Channel Communications Incorporated, the Nation's largest radio chain with 11 percent of the Nation's total studios and stations, has received about 52 percent of the fines that the FCC has imposed. Viacom's Infinity station, about 2 percent of all stations, has received 28 percent of the FCC's fines. So the fact is when big media gets bigger and the race for audiences turns to the lowest denominator in trash programming to appeal to the broadest possible audience, those conglomerates move further away from quality programming and the principles of "diversity, localism and competition" crucial for the service of the public interest.
Finally, I was in support of the Schakowsky amendment that would have exempted individuals from increases in indecency fines. And hearing from the industry, they are very upset about the possibility. So I am hoping that we can clear up some of these issues in another piece of legislation.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004. While I support giving the Federal Communication Commission greater authority in the enforcement of indecency rules, I don't believe it addressed the root cause of indecency in media, namely, the current trend of unfettered media conglomeration and its impact on creative voices.
I think it is important for us to recognize that this bill taps into the underlying anger of the over 2 million individuals who wrote to the FCC last summer opposing its relaxation of media ownership rules, individuals who were truly turned off by a dumb-down media culture that has failed to serve the public interest. The bottom line is, a consolidated media market controlled by profit-driven conglomerates are bound to produce indecent, shock-value programming for the sake of viewership.
I just want to mention some shocking statistics that illustrate the connection between indecency and media concentration. The 1996 Telecommunications Act cleared the way for relaxing some media ownership limits. Since then, complaints received by the FCC regarding indecent programming on television have jumped from 26 in 2000, to 217 in 2003. Clear Channel Communications Inc., the Nation's largest radio chain with 11 percent of the Nation's total stations, has received about 52 percent of the fines the FCC has imposed. Viacom's Infinity Stations, about 2 percent of all stations, has received 28 percent of the FCC's fines.
The fact is, when big media gets bigger, and the race for audiences turns to the lowest denominator in trash programming to appeal to the broadest possible audience, those conglomerates move further away from quality programming and the principles of "diversity, localism, and competition" crucial for the service of public interest.
That is why the Senate this week adopted a provision to impose a 1-year moratorium on the FCC's new media-ownership rules pending the outcome of a new GAO study on the connection between media indecency and ownership. I am very disappointed that a similar amendment offered by the gentleman from New York (Mr. HINCHEY) was rejected by the Rules Committee. Mr. Chairman, while I am prepared to vote for the bill, I strongly urge this Chamber to allow a thorough debate on the issue of media consolidation.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 ½ minutes to the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Walden), who offered a very constructive bipartisan amendment that is part of the package of this bill.
Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for his work on this legislation.
I want to acknowledge up front that I am a broadcast licensee, owner and operator of five radio stations, and I am very supportive of this bill in this form.
It was time that the broadcast community cleaned up the airwaves, that owners took the responsibility to make sure that the talent on their shows operated within the bounds of the law. It is important to note that this legislation does not change the standards that have always been on the books and recognized by the courts when it comes to clean talk on the airwaves.
This legislation, though, gives the FCC the fining authority it needs to deal with egregious violations of the law and also the incentive it needs to act, and act more appropriately.
For those of us who are small-community broadcasters, it also recognizes that the fine should fit and the punishment should be fair; and, therefore, it recognizes both the role of affiliates and their liabilities versus those providing the programming, as well as having the FCC recognize market size when levying fines. Because, indeed, a fine of a half a million dollars on a small-market broadcaster could spell bankruptcy, when on a large conglomerate, it may be just another cost of doing business.
I want to conclude my remarks this morning by having Americans and Members in this Chamber recognize fully that the actions that are taken by some broadcasters are not the actions taken by most broadcasters. Allowing indecent, profane, and obscene language on stations is something most of us find offensive, just as most Americans do. Broadcasters have made enormous contributions to their communities, raising money for charity, helping in emergencies, and providing that vital communication link.
Mr. Chairman, I support this bill. I thank the Chairman for his support of the amendments that were included.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 6 minutes to the gentleman from Chicago, Illinois (Mr. Rush).
Mr. RUSH. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the ranking member for yielding me time.
I want to engage in colloquy with the chairman of the subcommittee, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton).
During a recent subcommittee hearing on broadcast indecency, we heard testimony that it is the Federal Communication Commission's policy that persons submitting complaints alleging indecent broadcast must submit a tape, transcript, or significant excerpt of the alleged indecent content or risk having the complaint dismissed.
Do you recall that testimony?
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. RUSH. I yield to the gentleman from Michigan.
Mr. UPTON. Yes, I do. The testimony was provided by Brent Bozell, President of the Parents Television Council. The FCC claims, however, that they no longer adhere to that policy.
Mr. RUSH. I understand that it is the FCC's official position; however, unfortunately, the FCC's claim is incorrect. According to a March 2, 2004, letter from Chairman Powell to the ranking member, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell), since 2001 the commission has dismissed 170 complaints for lack of a tape or transcript, including six already this year, 2004.
Does the gentleman agree that this policy places an enormous and inappropriate burden on consumers who simply wish to file a complaint about indecent broadcast?
Mr. UPTON. I agree with the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Rush), consumers should not be forced to record every program that they watch or listen to in order to submit a complaint to the FCC alleging indecent content. It is an outrage that the FCC continues its practice of dismissing consumer complaints for lack of a tape or transcript.
Mr. RUSH. I appreciate the gentleman's concern, Mr. Chairman, on this matter. Do you agree that our committee must closely watch this issue and urge the FCC to change its policy statement in this matter?
Mr. UPTON. I agree with the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Rush).
The committee will closely monitor the FCC's action to ensure that the FCC actually changes their policy in that regard, and I thank the gentleman for bringing this to our attention; and I look forward to working with him on this issue to make sure that that change, in fact, is made in order.
Mr. RUSH. I thank my good friend and chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet for his concern and assurance on this matter.
That said, Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 3717. For the past month, the Committee on Energy and Commerce has held numerous hearings on the issue of broadcast indecency. In those hearings, we heard from the FCC commissioners and the broadcasters on the enforcement of indecency rules. It became clear that the FCC has been neglectful in its duty in enforcing indecency rules. From 2000 to 2003, the commission has received 255,000 complaints on the subject of indecency, yet the commission had filed less than 10 notices of apparent liability. To add insult to injury, since its existence, the commission has yet to fine a broadcaster for airing language that is obscene and profane.
As we can see, there has been a dereliction by the FCC of its duties. Some have argued that the commission needs additional authority from Congress to make a serious effort to stop indecency. That said, Mr. Chairman, I believe that H.R. 3717 will give the commission the ammunition it needs to do just that.
The bill not only increases fines but compels the FCC to use its renewal and revocation processes to go after licensees, and it compels the FCC to act in a timely manner regarding consumer complaints.
Mr. Chairman, I would be remiss if I did not discuss the pervasiveness of violent programs on our airwaves. During our month-long hearing discussing this issue, I offered and withdrew an amendment that would have required the FCC to include excessive violence in its definition of indecency.
Study after study has shown that there may be a causal link between violence in the media and violence in society.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased that the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), the ranking member, have agreed to hold a separate hearing on this issue. Such a hearing is needed to focus the collective attention of this committee on detrimental effects of violence in the media as it relates to our children.
Again, I urge Members on both sides of the aisle to vote in favor of this wonderful bill, H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act. For the past month the Energy and Commerce Committee has held numerous hearings on the issue of broadcast indecency. In those hearings we heard from the FCC Commissioners and the broadcasters on the enforcement of the indecency rules. It became clear that the FCC had been neglectful in its duty in enforcing indecency rules. From 2000 to 2003 the Commission had received 255,000 complaints on the subject of indecency yet the Commission had filed less then ten notices of apparent liability (NAL's). To add insult to injury, since its existence the Commission has yet to fine a broadcaster for airing language that is obscene or profane. As you see, there has been a dereliction by the FCC of its duties. Some have argued that the Commission needs additional authority from Congress to make a serious effort to stop indecency. That said, I believe H.R. 3717 would give the Commission the ammunition it needs to do just that. The bill not only increases fines but compels the FCC to use its renewal and renovation processes to go after licensees and it compels the FCC to act in a timely manner regarding consumer complaints.
I would be remiss if I did not discuss the pervasiveness of violent programming on our airwaves. During our month long hearing discussing this issue I offered and withdrew an amendment that would have required the FCC to include excessive violence in the definition of indecency. Study after study has shown that there may be a causal link between violence in the media and violence in society. I am pleased that Chairman UPTON and Ranking Member MARKEY have agreed to have a separate hearing on this issue. Such a hearing is needed to focus the collective attention of this committee on the detrimental effects of violence in the media as it relates to our children.
And lastly, as we give the FCC this increased power, I would like us to consider giving preference to socially and economically disadvantaged groups for the purchase of the revoked licenses.
Again, I urge members on both sides of the aisle to vote in favor of H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey).
(Mr. GINGREY asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. GINGREY. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004, and compliment my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, especially the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), for bringing this important legislation to the Congress.
Our Nation's television and radio airwaves have increasingly become inundated with indecent, obscene, and profane material. The recent Super Bowl half-time show was only the latest in a string of incidents to make front-page headlines. Other performers, celebrities, and shock jocks have coarsely invaded our homes with their language and their antics.
Networks and entertainers must acknowledge that our liberties also require responsibility and that avoidance of this responsibility places our family and our children at risk.
These incidents involving profanity, lewd behavior and language have been occurring with only a slap on the wrist or no response at all from the FCC. With current allowable fines of only a maximum of $27,500 per violation, there is very little incentive for broadcasters to follow the regulations when the rewards of higher ratings, due to their selection of programming, far outweigh those costs.
H.R. 3717 will put some teeth behind the FCC's enforcement of their standards of indecency by increasing the maximum amount of fines to $500,000 per violation and will allow them to enforce their current regulations in a swift and fair manner by removing the warning after a first offense and a capped maximum fine of only $11,000 after the second offense.
We must provide the FCC with the authority that they need to combat this wave of indecency. Our families and our children deserve nothing less.
I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 3717.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 3 minutes.
I just wanted to point out that I have requested that the television industry increase its public service advertisements about the television rating system, and I am happy to report that many in the industry have agreed to provide much more public education about this technology in TV sets so it is easier for parents to be able to figure out how to program it and to provide just the level of protection which they want for the children in their home, at whatever particular age they may be.
I also challenged the television networks to consider a couple of suggestions with respect to the broadcast of the ratings icon on the screen. I requested that the TV ratings icon appear not only at the top of a show but also after commercial breaks when the show resumes. That is because a lot of times people turn on the show after it has already started and they have no idea what the rating is. So I have asked them to actually put on the rating at each commercial break as well so that parents can see what the level of the rating is and make an adjustment for their own particular families.
I also requested that the networks add a voice-over when the ratings appear to also better alert parents. The ABC television network readily agreed to both suggestions, as did Bud Paxon on behalf of his PAX network. The other three major networks, Fox, NBC and CBS, have indicated that they are considering it but have not yet committed to doing so. I hope that they join ABC in doing it because I think it is helpful, quite frankly, to give parents this kind of additional information.
It does not detract from any network's ability to be able to put any programming on that they want. It just gives parents the information they need in order to shield their children from material which they believe may be inappropriate.
I also challenged the cable industry, in addition to increasing their public service advertisements, to increase consumer awareness of the provisions of the 1992 Cable Act that permits any cable subscriber in America to request that the cable company block any one of the cable programs that they believe is inappropriate for their family. It is a right that every American has in terms of their relationship with their cable company, but no more than 1 percent of all Americans even know they have the right to have any one of these individual cable channels blocked from coming into their home, even if they have bought the whole other part of the cable package.
I believe that if the cable industry made it clear in their bills, the information they give to consumers, that millions of American families would be much happier if they could take the whole cable package and then delete a couple of channels that they believe were too offensive for their young children and their family. I think it can be a real step forward, and I have received some very encouraging information from some of these cable networks that they will provide that option.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Forbes), a cosponsor of the legislation.
Mr. FORBES. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 3717 and the gentleman from Michigan's (Mr. Upton) efforts to pass this act. Over the last several months, I have received hundreds of letters from frustrated constituents expressing their outrage over obscenity on our airwaves.
They tell me it seems that every time they turn on their television or radio they have to cover their children's eyes and ears to protect them from profanity and obscenity. It is a disturbing feeling when one is afraid to leave their living room to check on dinner for fear that their children might be exposed to gross obscenity on television.
My youngest child is still in high school; and as a dad, I would like to be there all the time for him, to turn off the television, to talk to him about why people say the things they do and to provide the guidance he needs; but we all have busy lives, and we know that it is not possible to be there every minute. As parents and as citizens, we should not be forced into a constant battle to protect our children from obscenity. We should have confidence that basic standards of common decency will be upheld.
Several years ago, the Super Bowl half-time show featured characters from Disney and Peanuts. As we all know, this year's Super Bowl half-time was quite the opposite. While there was a time when parents would be happy to see their children emulate their role models on the playground, today that would be a horrifying sight.
With each inappropriate incident, networks weaken our standards of decency and blur our children's sense of propriety. This legislation will hold broadcasters accountable by ensuring that fines for broadcast indecency are not seen as just a cost of doing business. It has become much easier for broadcasters to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
At this point, our mandate as legislators is clear: stand up against the continued decline in standards of broadcast indecency and pass H.R. 3717.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell), who is the ranking member of the full committee.
(Mr. DINGELL asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, with thanks I accept 2 minutes from my dear friend.
First of all, Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the legislation.
Second of all, I congratulate my dear friend, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), for his outstanding leadership in this matter. He has been long interested in this matter and has provided remarkably good leadership in this matter.
I also commend my good friend from Michigan (Mr. Upton). He has served in this body with distinction and has provided extraordinary leadership here, also.
I congratulate the gentleman from Texas (Chairman BARTON) for his new position and for his leadership in shepherding H.R. 3717 through the committee process.
This is a bill which is bipartisan; and the committee has worked well in a bipartisan fashion which does great credit to the Members, and particularly the leadership of the committee, for having done so.
Our constituents are fed up with the level of sex and violence on television and radio, as well as the lax attitude of the Federal Communications Commission's handling of decency complaints. Clearly, the commission has been asleep at the switch for some time.
The bill sets a deadline by which the commission must act on consumer indecency complaints. It raises the penalties for that kind of misbehavior. It makes these matters subject to review in connection with license renewal, or makes it possible for the commission to do what they have now the power to do; and it encourages them so to do by seeing to it that this matter will be raised also at the time of license renewal.
The bill raises fines by a significant amount. That is good. It also requires the commission to report annually to the Congress on the handling of these matters, something which will perhaps alert them to the need to proceed with greater vigor.
I applaud the fact that the commission has developed a remarkable and acute sense of newly found virtue. This is good, and it is my hope that the commission will remain awake, alert and vigilant, although their history is significantly against that kind of prospect.
In any event, I look forward to the bill being enacted into law. I commend my colleagues for the work they have done. I look forward to the prospect that this is going to see to it that free, over-the-air television will be something which we can see to it that our families in this country can have their children watch television without having to worry about the kind of situation that they will confront in terms of decency, profanity and other things which are unseemly and unsuited to the way in which most American parents wish to raise their kids.
I urge my colleagues to support the bill. I, again, commend my colleague, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey), and the others for the outstanding job which they have done in presenting this bill to the House, and I urge my colleagues to support it.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from the good State of California (Mr. Ose).
Mr. OSE. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Michigan for the time.
I rise today in support of the legislation that he has brought to the floor. I do want to add my compliments to the gentleman from Massachusetts' (Mr. Markey) efforts and the gentleman from Michigan's (Mr. Dingell) and others. I think for the first time we have very clearly approached the root cause of this.
As the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and others have spoken, the broadcasters who have allowed the creeping profanity and indecency to enter our airwaves have done so on the basis of a conscious decision they have made, that is, they are trading that kind of language for the added revenue that comes from increased ratings. The gentleman from Michigan's (Mr. Upton) bill significantly increases the penalties for violation of existing FCC rules and regulations; and in that regard, I hope that it will go a long way towards abating this kind of activity.
I have always felt that addressing the bottom line of our licensees would be an effective means of influencing their behavior, and I hope this works accordingly. I do think there remains a certain uncertainty as it relates to how the broadcasters shall address this issue having to do with exactly what is profane or what is not profane. I suspect that we will be dealing with that either with regulation at the FCC or here on the floor by statute in the days to come.
It is really remarkable to see the connection between, if you will, the outside world or the private side, how our constituents communicate with those of us elected to the House or the Senate, in some cases, react to certain instances, and what actually transpires. As with many of the Members here, I have received not dozens, but hundreds, of communications regarding the, as the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) said, the creeping profanity.
This is a great step in the right direction. I applaud the chairman for bringing it forward, and I thank him for the time.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 ½ minutes to the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Price).
(Mr. PRICE of North Carolina asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of this bill, but it is only a partial step in the battle to clean up our airwaves.
By increasing fines for broadcasters, we are addressing only a symptom of the problem, not the cause. We cannot ignore the correlation between indecency on our airwaves and the increased concentration of media ownership. It is not a perfect correlation, but it is a strong one.
In recognition of that, our colleagues in the other body have improved this bill in several ways. I wish our colleagues in this Chamber had followed suit.
First, the gentleman from New York (Mr. Hinchey) and I pushed for an amendment, not made in order, unfortunately, which would have addressed the true effects of media consolidation before moving forward with the FCC's newly relaxed rules. This amendment, introduced by Senator Dorgan and adopted in committee, calls for a GAO study, and it stays the new rules pending the completion of that study. I wish the leadership in this Chamber had allowed us to offer the same.
Secondly, the Senate Commerce Committee also adopted an amendment, sponsored by Senator Hollings, which would take steps to ensure that parents can use V-chips to block violent programming. The bill would require either that programs be rated for content, so that they may be filtered with the V-chip, or that a "safe harbor" family hour be created so that violent programming is simply not televised when children are likely to be watching. My colleagues, the gentleman from California (Mr. Baca) and the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Osborne) and I have introduced a companion bill in this Chamber.
Mr. Chairman, at the root of all these efforts is the undeniable fact that we are losing control of our airwaves. I hear from constituents all the time saying, "Where are the standards? How can I shield my children from inappropriate programming? And why are the people who put this on the air not held accountable?"
They are right. Our communities virtually have no say in the quality of the programming they are subjected to on broadcast television. And the network executives in L.A. or New York do not seem to feel they owe them anything.
As big media conglomerates get bigger, they are sinking to new lows. We are witnessing a race to the bottom as these networks seek to expand their influence through shock value instead of quality programming.
The Super Bowl was only one example, Mr. Chairman. CBS may blame MTV for its infamous half-time spectacle, but the common denominator for both networks is their owner, Viacom. And the "wardrobe malfunctions," or whatever you want to call these episodes, will not stop there.
If we are serious about cleaning up our airwaves, we need to do what the American people are demanding: Give them back their local media. And we need to do much more than impose fines on the broadcasters that, even if they are increased, are hardly going to make these corporations bat an eye.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Smith), an original cosponsor of the legislation.
Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Chairman, first of all, I would like to thank the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) for yielding me this time, but also for introducing this legislation.
Mr. Chairman, the broadcast of offensive language is a growing and disturbing trend. Members of the Parents Television Council, a group that monitors television broadcasts, filed 85,000 complaints about broadcast obscenity and indecency with the Federal Communications last year.
The networks have pushed the limits of decency to the point that family-oriented programs and enjoyable American pastimes, such as the Super Bowl, are no longer safe for our children to watch.
Unfortunately, the FCC has given television and radio stations too much power to broadcast behavior or language they believe will bring in the high ratings or advertising dollars. This undermines standards of common decency and impedes the ability of parents to raise their children free from exposure to profane language.
Low fines for indecency only encourage more indecency. It has become apparent some performers will accept a small fine for offensive and crude behavior in return for the media attention its creates. This is one of the reasons I support this legislation that increases fines for indecent language on radio and television.
Mr. Chairman, this is not a constitutional issue. The Supreme Court has upheld the FCC's authority to regulate broadcasts. In fact, the court said "Of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited first amendment protection. Among the reasons is that broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children."
The entertainment industry has become increasingly isolated from the American people. We are still a Nation that believes in standards of common decency and respect for traditional values. This bill will help us uphold those values.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, could the Chair tell me how much time is remaining on either side?
The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) has 12 ½ minutes remaining, and the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) has 22 minutes remaining.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Osborne), not only an original cosponsor of this legislation, but also one that came, before the Super Bowl, who sat through our first hearing, way back in January, to sit with the audience.
Mr. OSBORNE. Mr. Chairman, I particularly want to thank the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) for introducing this bill. I think that is standard fare. You always thank people who author these. But, believe me, this is something that many citizens across this country greatly appreciate because it actually introduces some meaningful penalties for indecency, something that has been lacking for a long time.
This bill, as I see it, is not really a reaction to the Super Bowl half-time show, as maybe the chairman pointed out. It is a reaction to the 240,000 complaints that were filed regarding indecency at the FCC in the year 2003. As a result of those 240,000 complaints, only three notices of violations, with minimal fines, were ever compacted. So, essentially, complaints of indecency have been largely ignored.
Also, this is a reaction to the fact that Bono issued four epithets and no violation was found because he used these as adjectives. So also the FCC has suspended no broadcast licenses in the history of its existence.
The Super Bowl half-time show, I think, did serve a purpose because it offended mainstream America. It gave tracks to the bill, and the outcry reached unparalleled proportions.
I feel that the strength of a Nation is measured by its adherence to standards of decency and civil discourse. During the last few years, we have been embarked, as many have said, on a race to the bottom. The standard of decency in place for roughly 200 years of our Nation's history has been shattered, and this has been an alarming trend.
DeTocqueville said, "America is great because America is good." One of the greatest threats to our culture is that America will no longer be a decent, moral, good society. This bill will help reverse an alarming trend. I urge passage, and I would like to thank the committee, and particularly thank the authors.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 ½ minutes to the gentlewoman from New Mexico (Mrs. Wilson), another original cosponsor of the legislation.
Mrs. WILSON of New Mexico. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the chairman and the ranking member for their leadership on this issue in bringing this bill so rapidly to the floor.
The Federal Communications Commission plays a very important role in protecting Americans, and particularly children, from indecent programming. The FCC has the statutory authority to enforce the laws that are on the books, but their enforcement has been inadequate and the tools that they have had at their disposal have also been insufficient. This bill today will help to change that situation.
This legislation increases the fines from what was really a trivial amount, a cost-of-doing-business kind of fine, to a maximum of $500,000 per violation. It also says that a broadcast company's record of indecency will be a factor when they apply to continue to get their free over-the-air license continued. And I hope that that gets the attention of the companies that are pushing the envelope with respect to indecency.
It also increases the expectations for enforcement by the FCC. We have heard the numbers and the statistics, which are appalling, regarding the enforcement of these laws. Some of the complaints go unanswered or unaddressed for years. This bill establishes a shot clock of 270 days where the FCC has the obligation to take action when there is a complaint for indecency.
I also think that this bill makes very clear, and this effort should make clear, that local affiliates have the right to decline to air programming which is inconsistent with community standards, even when it is not indecent or profane. In the hearings in our committee, we heard about local affiliates who felt as though they really did not have the leverage within the networks. This legislation shows they do have the leverage, they can exercise it, and we also will punish the networks if they fail to follow the law.
Mr. Chairman, I believe we have already had an effect on this industry. FCC enforcement was lax and, when imposed, was largely symbolic. We are changing that. But the real change will come in the board rooms and the general managers' offices and broadcast studios across this country when people decide to be responsible and to entertain rather than denigrate.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Obey).
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, this bill certainly is fine, as far as it goes, but the fact is that higher fines are going to do nothing to mitigate the real problem, which is the concentration of power in the hands of a limited number of large corporations that believe they are outside the reach of the communities they serve.
Communities determine standards of decency, and the most effective enforcement of those standards is through local ownership of television and radio stations. FCC fines, even in the millions, will not stop national broadcasters from lowering standards.
Infinity stations, for instance, were fined $1.7 million to settle a series of indecency cases, but that did not stop them. On the contrary, just last year, they were fined for a radio contest for couples willing to perform sexually in public places in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities with a different radio announcer following each couple and providing the play-by-play accounting of the activities.
The House tried to do something about the core problem when it adopted, in a bipartisan manner, the Commerce, State, Justice appropriations bill, which had a provision to prevent the FCC from relaxing the established limits on network-owned television stations, and the Senate did the same thing. But at the last moment, in the dead of night, the White House convinced Republican congressional leaders to cave in to the special interest media conglomerates and they agreed to weaken the provision.
So by all means, pass this bill, if you want. It will perhaps have a minor effect. But if you really want to do something to give communities the ability to stop this nonsense, you will take away from the FCC the ability to concentrate broadcasting power in the hands of a few corporations. That is what makes the system so fundamentally arrogant. That is what puts the system so far out of the reach of average citizens, who resent seeing this garbage.
Until the Congress acts on that, it will be simply dealing with window dressing.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Pickering), an original cosponsor of the bill and, more importantly, a fellow dad.
Mr. PICKERING. Mr. Chairman, I commend you for your work, the whole House, the ranking member, the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Dingell) and the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Markey) for their good work, the bipartisan work in response to what we have seen across the country, and that is a rising up of outrage of families and individuals saying "enough."
Our Nation is better than this. We can do better than this. In our public airwaves and in the public square we can be decent. We do not have to glorify what is indecent. We do not have to be profane. We can entertain and enlighten without going to the worst among us or to the lowest common denominator.
Today, we are passing legislation that reaffirms long-established constitutional standards of decency, and we are saying to the networks, and we are saying to the radio stations, you need to do better. There will be three strikes, three opportunities, and if you violate the decency standards three times, then you are in danger of losing your rights and privileges as a licensee. We are increasing the fines to say that there will be a cost, a significant cost of ignoring the common standards of decency.
We hope that through this effort, we will see more corporate responsibility, as well as the common good and public responsibility to bring our standards back up; to affirm it, to establish standards over responsibility, and then have enforcement mechanisms of accountability.
Mr. Chairman, this is good legislation and in the best spirit of the Nation. We are decent people and a good Nation; and we want to maintain, preserve and protect that, for the country and our culture, for our communities and our families.
Mr. Chairman, I commend the gentleman from Michigan for the bipartisan spirit in which this is done, and look forward to having this legislation passed and signed into law.
Mr. MARKEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Hinchey).
Mr. HINCHEY. Mr. Chairman, I very much appreciate the sentiments behind this bill. There is no question that indecency in the media is a disease that is infecting all of our society. The problem with this legislation, however, is that it deals only with the symptoms of the problem and not with the underlying cause.
The underlying cause of indecency in the media and other problems that we are witnessing as Americans in our electronic media particularly across the country is the incredible consolidation of the ownership of the airwaves into fewer and fewer hands.
On June 2, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Mr. Powell, led an effort that was endorsed by his two Republican colleagues and opposed by the two Democrats which moved that consolidation effort even further so that now we are facing a situation whereby in any service area across the country, one corporation can own almost all of the radio stations, almost all of the television stations, the one daily newspaper and the cable television station, giving that corporate entity the power to control not only the entertainment but the critically important information that goes to the people who are served in that area.
Mr. Powell's action is not a new phenomenon. This is something that we have been witnessing in this country since the mid-1980s. In fact, it was the Reagan FCC back in 1987 which began this consolidation effort in earnest. They also did something else: they took from the American people the right of ownership of the airwaves. Up to that point, we had something called the equal access clause or the fairness doctrine, which allowed American citizens if they disagreed with a political viewpoint expressed by the owner of a radio or television station to have that right expressed. But that right was taken away in 1987 by the Reagan FCC, and that deprivation has been endorsed by this FCC. That is what needs to change. If we want indecency in the media, we have to attack what is really indecent, and what is indecent is this consolidation that is increasing and destroying the independence of the airwaves.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goodlatte).
(Mr. GOODLATTE asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of H.R. 3717, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004, and I commend the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) for his leadership on this issue.
Like many Americans, I was appalled to see the lack of enforcement of our Nation's Federal obscenity laws after the incident at the Golden Globe Awards program last January. Since that incident, the media has been engaged in an escalating race to the bottom to shock viewers. Most recently, this race took the form of the brazen display during the Super Bowl halftime show, an event watched by millions of men, women, and children. That shameless exhibition was disgraceful and had no place on the public airwaves.
Thankfully, the FCC has started to take its enforcement responsibilities seriously. However, it has become frighteningly clear that the penalties currently on the books are not sufficient to deter this behavior. Those in the media who choose to air these obscene materials will not feel the sting of enforcement until the punishment is considered to be more than a simple cost of doing business.
H.R. 3717 strengthens the penalties at the FCC's disposal to punish those that pollute the public airwaves with obscene and indecent materials. By increasing the fines that the FCC can impose from $27,500 to $500,000, this legislation hits the violators where it hurts the most, their pockets.
In addition, under current law, if an individual willfully violates indecency standards, the FCC must first warn the violator. However, this bill eliminates the warning requirement and increases the maximum penalty for individuals from $11,000 to $500,000 for the first offense.
Furthermore, the bill requires the FCC to act in a timely manner. It requires the FCC to make a determination of whether an alleged offense constitutes obscene, indecent, or profane material within 180 days from date of the complaint.
It is time to take a stand against the constant bombardment of obscene and profane materials into our living rooms. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Indiana (Mr. Pence), a cosponsor of the legislation.
Mr. PENCE. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004.
Mr. Chairman, I am a Congressman today, but for 7 years I was a radio and television broadcaster in the State of Indiana. Let us be clear on this point, a point that was clear to me as a public broadcaster: the public airwaves are owned and governed by the American people. Everyone who operates in front of a microphone or a camera on the public airwaves knows that they have to do so under the obligations in the family hours of public broadcasting that have been set and upheld by the courts over the decades.
This is not a burden. Eighteen hours a week for over 6 years I hosted a talk radio program, and I lived within the standards that have been established and upheld by the courts. Thanks to the leadership of the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Upton) and the ranking member, now we have legislation that will put real teeth behind these standards, and I strongly support it. The opponents say this is an issue of free speech. This is not about free speech. This is about decent speech living within the constitutional standards that every broadcaster should hold on the public airwaves. I urge strong support for the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004.
Mr. UPTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Cox), an original cosponsor of the legislation.
Mr. COX. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Michigan for his leadership and his crafting this bill which underscores the principle that those who have been given multi-billion dollar assets in the form of public airwaves for free, courtesy of the taxpayers, owe in return at least some consideration of the taxpaying audience and the public interest they purport to serve.
I like free enterprise and the opportunity for every business to turn a profit. I support unlimited artistic creativity. None of these provide a reason for multi-billion dollar spectrum subsidies for profit-making entertainment, particularly when it is indecent, obscene and profane. While others in telecommunications pay for their slice of the airwaves, the broadcasting industry has been given multi-billion dollar slices of the public airwaves for free.
In the 1990s, every other industry that uses the airwaves, such as wireless phone companies, paid for their pieces of the airwaves through public auctions that generated billions in revenue for taxpayers. The broadcasting industry has paid nothing to the taxpayers for their continued free use of this valuable public asset.
On top of that, every TV station owner was recently given more free bandwidth to convert to digital TV, and that additional loan spectrum has an estimated value of $100 billion. That is a payment from every man, woman, and child in America of $350.
As we complete action on this bill, our attention turns naturally to the underlying question of whether taxpayers should continue the multi-billion dollar subsidies of this obviously for-profit industry. It is my hunch that if we were to auction the broadcast spectrum without the free ride that such programming now gets, the market and consumers would not demand 184 channels of Howard Stern.
Making for-profit TV pay for its spectrum and compete with other high-tech demands would be a far better way of dealing with the problem of indecent programming than government regulation of speech. I think this bill is welcome news.