The First Amendment took a major hit in the US House of Representatives today as that once-august body overwhelmingly passed H.R.310, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005. I’m especially disappointed that my own Representative, Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota) voted in favor of this travesty, and I’d like an explanation.
The legislation has three main components:
- Raises the maximum penalty for indecent broadcasts from US$32,500 to US$500,000 per violation;
- Expands the FCC’s authority to fine individuals—not just license holders—responsible for indecency
- Institutes a sort of three-strikes penalty that requires the FCC to initiate license revocation proceedings against a broadcaster that has been fined three times.
Ill-conceived legislation like this prevents the creatives in the culture from producing quality work and simultaneously revokes the citizenry’s right to choose which works to peruse. Even the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation opposed the resolution.
The Senate’s version of the legislation—S.193—ups the ante by raising the indecency stakes to US$3 million.
Remember that something doesn’t have to be obscene to be found indecent, just merely offensive or inappropriate will do, or as the FCC makes crystal clear, indecency is “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” The basic rule of thumb is that screwing, crapping, and peeing are off limits; the most bloody killing imaginable is hunky-dory.