Restoring the public trust
By Congressman Joseph R. Pitts
This week the House passed a bill making the penalties against broadcast indecency tougher.
Under current law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has jurisdiction over public broadcast airwaves. Networks, channels, companies and others receive licenses to broadcast material over these airwaves. Anyone can access this programming. As one of my colleagues said during debate on this bill, "This programming is ubiquitous." Anyone can watch or listen to it at any time.
Currently, the FCC can impose fines of up to $27,500 on broadcasters who violate federal decency laws and have literally been on the book for decades, withstanding court challenges and the test of time. However, the FCC has been inconsistent in enforcing these laws.
For years, I have heard from parents around the country who hate the fact they need to cover their children's eyes and ears because of something that comes network television or on the radio. For years, Congress could never muster the political will to address the situation.
The FCC didn't help. By failing to enforce existing law, the agency sent the message to broadcasters that they would not be held accountable for the material they sent over public airwaves. They were allowed to "shock and awe" audiences to score bigger ratings and more ad revenue.
We abandoned American families. This week we said enough is enough.
H.R 3717 sends a clear message that if broadcasters will not do the right thing, then the FCC will do it for them. We are no longer going to idly stand by and force our parents to put up with this filth.
It increases the amount of fines that can be levied by the FCC, and caps that fine at $500,000 per infraction. It is important that the FCC be given enough room to impose heavy fines. It's important for broadcasters to know that they can be severely punished for betraying the public trust.
The bill also includes several factors the FCC is to take into consideration when determining the fine for violators. I am pleased that one of those factors is the size of the audience. In my opinion, the larger the audience size, the greater the offense. It is only appropriate that the FCC give higher fines to those who broadcast to a larger audience.
The bill also allows the FCC to, in addition to imposing a fine, require licensees to apologize by airing public service announcements that serve the educational needs of children. When appropriate, violators should be required to explain and apologize for their actions, especially when children have been in the audience.
H.R. 3717 also requires the FCC to submit annual reports to Congress on the size and scope of complaints on indecent material received by the FCC, the number of fines issued, and the amount of those fines and the length of the proceedings.
In case we forget, this is Congress' job - to make sure taxpayers interests are protected. Too often, we ignore our responsibility to the American people and allow bureaucrats to make these decisions absent any accountability. I believe these annual reports will help us get a better handle on the FCC's progress in this area.
The most important provision in this bill, however, is one added by my friend Mississippi Congressman Chip Pickering. This is one commonly referred to as 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. This provision makes it clear that Congress is not going to put up with multiple violators.
This is an issue that affects us all, particularly those of us with kids and grandkids.
Families are sick and tired of worrying about what their children may hear or see every time they turn on the television. They are frustrated that the media industry has seemingly been able to broadcast any type of behavior or speech that they feel will bring in advertising dollars. Meanwhile, they feel that the federal government has sided with media elites and turned a blind eye to the concerns of ordinary moms and dads.
This legislation shows to parents that we have heard them and that we too share their concerns. This bill is the reward for their persistent efforts to clean up our airwaves, and a victory for the democratic process.