Indecency proposal faces vote

Senate panel looks at obscenity now, violence later

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers this summer plan to take up the first of two content-control measures that seek to force Hollywood to tone down its products.

The bill the Senate Commerce Committee plans to consider first is the Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act. It would reinstate the FCC policy making broadcasters liable for a $325,000 fine for a slip of the tongue. A committee vote on the indecency measure is expected Thursday.

Earlier this year, the federal appeals court in New York tossed out an FCC indecency ruling that said a fleeting obscenity reference gets broadcasters a fine for indecency, telling the commission that it failed to give a good reason for its decision and likely could not find a good reason if it had to.

The committee members are likely to approve the legislation, as it has the support of the committee's leaders and is something that is politically difficult to oppose.

"It looks like it's getting the support that it needs to go through the committee," said Steven Broderick, spokesman for Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Rockefeller is the chief sponsor of the legislation and a senior committee member.

Commerce Committee chairman Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, and the ranking member, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, both support the legislation.

Rockefeller also is preparing legislation that would give the FCC the authority to regulate "excessively violent" content on television -- be it cable, satellite or broadcast TV.

While the two bills seek to give the government more say over the TV shows people watch, they are not being packaged, Broderick said.

"It will be done in two legislative chunks," he said. "One, the indecency issue, is more timely; the other is timeless."

Under the ruling the court rejected in June, the FCC decided that language used by Nicole Richie and Cher during the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards was indecent and profane.

While the commission found that the shows violated the broadcast indecency rules, it didn't issue a fine because the shows predated a policy established in 2004 after U2 frontman Bono said winning a Golden Globe was "really, really fucking brilliant."

In the Bono decision, the commission changed its definition of "fleeting" use, deciding that a certain word can be so vile that it runs afoul of the nation's indecency laws. The court's decision appeared to undo the Bono decision, which has been sitting at the commission on review for some time.

"The (commission's order) makes passing reference to other reasons that purportedly support its change in policy, none of which we find sufficient," the court wrote.