Senate panel OK's '1-word' bill

Would restore fine on b'casters for fleeting indecency

WASHINGTON -- In what might have been record time, the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday approved legislation aimed at reinstating the FCC's authority to fine broadcasters for a slip of the tongue. The measure was passed in less than five minutes on a voice vote without debate or dissent.

The Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act is Congress' attempt to overturn a June decision by a federal appeals court in New York that tossed out the FCC indecency regulation that said a fleeting reference gets broadcasters a fine for indecency. In its decision, the court told the commission that it failed to give a good reason for its decision and likely couldn't find a good reason if it had to.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin hailed Thursday's move, calling it necessary to protect the nation's children from indecent images.

"I appreciate the actions by the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation, which affirmed the commission's ability to protect our children from indecent language and images on television and radio," Martin said. "Significantly, members of Congress stated once again what we on the commission and every parent already knows: Even a single word or image can indeed be indecent."

After the voice vote, committee staff said they didn't know when the legislation would hit the Senate floor.

Broadcast industry officials decried the bill, saying it's an answer looking for a question.

"This bill is premised on the completely false notion that broadcasters are clamoring to air 'f-bombs' and 's-words,' " National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton said. "Stations go to great lengths to prevent such language, and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise."

The bill is not the only legislation attempting to force Hollywood to tone down its products; lawmakers also are likely to consider legislation that would give the FCC the authority to regulate "excessively violent" content on television, whether it's cable, satellite or broadcast TV.

Under the rule the court rejected in June, the FCC decided that language used by Cher and Nicole Richie during the Billboard Music Awards was indecent and profane. During the 2002 show, Cher told the audience, "People have been telling me I'm on the way out every year. So fuck 'em." In 2003, Richie said: "Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It's not so fucking simple."

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 that winning a Golden Globe was "really, really fucking brilliant."

In the Bono decision, the FCC 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.