FCC Proposes More Indecency Rules

Federal regulators may require broadcasters to keep a recording of their programs for up to three months to aid in investigations of indecency (search) complaints.

The rules the Federal Communications Commission (search) proposed Wednesday would apply to television stations and AM/FM radio stations. Broadcasters would have to keep a recording of all material aired from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when children are most apt to be watching or listening.

According to the proposal, the recordings would be retained for 60 or 90 days "to increase the effectiveness of the commission's process for enforcing restrictions on obscene, indecent, and profane broadcast programming."

The FCC stepped up enforcement of indecency standards after Janet Jackson's breast-baring performance during the Super Bowl (search) halftime show in February.

The two chambers of Congress have gone on record seeking different penalties for indecency. The Senate voted recently to increase the top fine per incident from $27,500 to $275,000, while the House separately backed a far greater increase, to $500,000.

Federal law bars radio stations and over-the-air television channels from broadcasting references to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The FCC begins an indecency investigation only if a member of the public files a complaint. To do so, the person must record the objectionable material and submit it to the FCC for review.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member panel, has been pressing the agency to make it easier for citizens to seek an investigation, saying the current process "has for too long placed inordinate responsibility upon the complaining citizen."

Current policy "ignores that it is the commission's responsibility to investigate complaints that the law has been violated, not the citizen's responsibility to prove the violations," he said.

Requiring broadcasters to record and save all their programming may not present an extraordinary burden for larger stations, but it could be a problem for smaller ones.

Jeffrey Yorke, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said officials are reviewing the proposal. He declined further comment.

The FCC will take comments from the public on the proposal over the next two months.