The newly passed Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 will increase fines broadcaster fines for unseemly content from $32,500 per violation to $500,000. The new rules will also do away with warnings handed out for a performer's first offense. A "three strikes" clause in the legislation would require the FCC to consider license revocation after three violations for indecency. Jonathan Rintels of the Center for Creative Voices in Media writes:
The exponential increase in “indecency” fines for broadcasters, and the application of those fines to performers on their first offense, will turn the chill that has already descended over our nation’s media into a deep freeze. Today’s vote was a tragedy for creative artists. More importantly, it was a tragedy for the American public.In advance of the vote, several members attempted to add amendments, "including reinstituting the fairness doctrine, rolling back media consolidation, and even delaying erectile dysfunction ads until after 10 pm," according to a report by John Eggerton.
Similar "poison pill" amendments helped kill the same bill last year, the righteous House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton effectively blocked these to see this one through.
"Democrats accused Republicans of protecting corporate media giants and their sometimes biased broadcasts by excluding debate on consolidation and other issues," Eggerton writes of the often heated discussion prior to the vote.
Democrats Louise Slaughter and Lynn Woolsey called for a return of the fairness doctrine, saying that declining standards of fairness and truth in broadcasting are a bigger indecency. News people passing off opinion as news, that's indecent, Slaughter told other Representatives, or "paying to advocate opinions on the public airwaves without disclosure, I call that indecent," she said. "One-sided documentaries designed to impact an election without equal time. That's indecent and dangerous."
Barney Frank pointed to the Department of Education's pressure on PBS to drop an episode of "Postcards from Buster" featuring lesbian parents as an incident that has fueled the pervasive climate of self-censorship across the country. Democrat Frank blamed the majority party as firing up the "censorship of free and open debate."
While much of this boiled down to partisan grandstanding over amendments that were doomed from the outset, it's impressive at least to hear talk of a better media system playing a larger part in our national discourse. Sadly, it was as a part of a losing cause.