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House Grills FCC on TV, Radio Indecency

Federal broadcast regulators insisted to skeptical lawmakers Wednesday that they have aggressively enforced laws designed to keep indecent programming off radio and television.

David Solomon, chief of the Federal Communication Commission's (search) enforcement bureau, said the agency has "taken indecency enforcement very seriously," including a proposed record fine of $755,000 against the nation's largest radio chain for airing a sexually explicit radio show.

But several members of the House Energy and Commerce telecommunications subcommittee expressed dismay that Solomon's bureau declined to fine NBC for airing an expletive uttered by rock star Bono during the Golden Globe Awards show last year. The FCC is weighing whether to overrule its enforcement bureau in that case.

"This is the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back," said Rep. John Shimkus (search), R-Ill. "The public has seen a decline in the indecency standards. The public is saying, 'Enough's enough'."

L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, a conservative advocacy group, told the subcommittee the FCC is not doing its job to protect viewers from indecent programming.

For example, until proposing a $27,500 penalty against the owner of KRON in San Francisco, the FCC had never fined a television station in the 50 states for indecency, he noted.

"Looking at the FCC's track record on indecency enforcement, it becomes painfully apparent that the FCC could care less about community standards of decency or about protecting the innocence of young children," Bozell said.

The hearing came a day after the FCC proposed fining Clear Channel Communications $715,000 for airing indecent programming on four Florida stations, and another $40,000 for record-keeping violations at the stations.

Also on Tuesday, the FCC proposed a $27,500 fine against Young Broadcasting of San Francisco Inc. for airing a man exposing himself on its "KRON 4 Morning News" show. The only other fine for indecent programming on television was $21,000 leveled against Telemundo of Puerto Rico License Corp. for three programs on San Juan's WKAQ-TV in 2001.

Support is increasing for legislation to raise from $27,500 to $275,000 the maximum fine per incident that the FCC can levy against broadcasters for indecent programming. The Bush administration endorsed the bill Wednesday.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell (search) asked Congress earlier this month to boost the fines tenfold, and Rep. Fred Upton (search), R-Mich., chairman of the House telecommunications panel, quickly introduced legislation to do so.

Upton said he hoped to have the bill reach the House floor before spring. The Senate Commerce Committee last year included a similar increase in fines in its legislation renewing the FCC.

"A number of these stations are repeat violators," Upton said. "It proves the point that the fine under today's law just isn't enough."

Clear Channel was fined for objectionable segments of "Bubba the Love Sponge" aired on its stations in four Florida cities: Callahan, Clearwater, Port Charlotte and West Palm Beach. Clear Channel faces an additional $40,000 fine because of record-keeping violations at the stations.

In response, Clear Channel called for an industry task force to develop indecency standards for radio, television, cable and satellite networks.

"We work hard every day to entertain, not offend our listeners," said John Hogan, head of Clear Channel Radio. "None of us defend or encourage indecent content it's simply not part of our corporate culture."

The fine against Young Broadcasting of San Francisco was for the KRON morning TV program on Oct. 4, 2002. During it, a performer from a theatrical show titled "Puppetry of the Penis" briefly exposed himself. The performers appeared on the TV show wearing only capes.

The largest cumulative fine for indecency was $1.7 million paid by Infinity Broadcasting in 1995 for various violations by radio host Howard Stern.