Senate Votes to Up Fines for Indecent Broadcasts

In the latest effort to curb indecency over the airwaves, the Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved raising the maximum fines for broadcasters and personalities who cross the line.

Under the measure passed by a 99-1 vote, the maximum fine for both broadcasters and entertainers would increase to up to $275,000 per indecent incident, up from $27,500 for license holders and $11,000 for personalities, for a maximum fine of $3 million a day.

The House passed a similar bill calling for $500,000 fines for indecent incidents, and differences between the two must be worked out.

The tenfold increase approved by the Senate was "a clear statement by the Senate that they are deeply troubled by the growing indecency over the airways," said GOP Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who sponsored the legislation.

The Senate moved the measure without debate as part of the massive defense bill expected to be approved later this week. The only senator to vote against the bill was Sen. John Breaux, D-La.

Federal law and Federal Communications Commission (search) rules prohibit over-the-air radio and TV stations from airing offensive material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuned in. There are no such restrictions for cable and satellite TV and satellite radio.

Introduced in January following FCC Chairman Michael Powell's (search) call for higher fines, the bill wound up on a fast track to passage after the now-infamous Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show that ended with singer Justin Timberlake partially exposing Janet Jackson's (search) breast to 90 million viewers.

If the legislation isn't approved as part of the defense authorization bill, Brownback said he would try to find another way to get it through the Senate.

"This is something the public wants," he said.

The Senate also approved a provision that would delay for one year the FCC's media ownership rules (search) that allow, among other things, companies to own both newspapers and broadcasting stations in the same market. Brownback said he wasn't sure that those provisions would make it into the final legislation.