Late yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a new version of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act (BDEA), which will increase the maximum FCC fine for an indecent broadcast from $32,500 to $325,000. Thank you, Senators Brownback (R-KS) and Frist (R-TN) for "hotlining" the legislation, allowing it to bypass the skeptical Senate Commerce Committee (who mysteriously didn't bother to voice concerns over it during the full Senate vote), where the legislation had flip-flopped for months.
The fines for unleashing "indecent" material over the airwaves may indeed become more expensive than those levied for illegally disposing toxic waste; the BDEA will become law if the House and Senate can come to an agreement on the actual amount of the maximum fine (if you recall, in February of 2005, the House passed a similar bill also called the BDEA, which set the maximum fine at $500,000).
Unfortunately, pinning down what exactly constitutes an "indecent broadcast" is like target practice with Dick Cheney. The FCC has told broadcasters the following:
- 'Fuck' and 'shit' are OK in Saving Private Ryan but not OK in a blues documentary on PBS
- Giving a horse a handjob is OK but pixelated boobs are not OK
- A simulated sex scene with grinding and zero nudity is OK but an implied teen sex orgy with zero nudity is not OK
And that's just in the last few years. Even the big TV networks are fed up with the inconsistencies and have banded together against the most recent batch of FCC fines, serving a number of lawsuits to the feds. This investment of big-time lawyers and serious network dollars will be well worth their while to prove the unconstitutionality of regulating indecency. Especially since a fine hike is now inevitable. Keep your fingers crossed that this court battle gets ugly and gets ugly quick.
But the real issue is protecting the children, isn't it? Well, certainly the possible 2008 Republican Presidential nominee who "hotlined" the BDEA late yesterday (psst... Frist) only had the children of America on his mind. Way to earn some last minute badges for your scout uniform, Billy.