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Capital Watch

Indecent Strip

Sen. Sam Brownback is frustrated that anti-indecency legislation is mired in Senate politics. So the Kansas Republican may slip a stripped-down version into a Defense Department budget bill. His amendment would raise fines for indecent broadcasts tenfold but, unlike the current standalone indecency bill, wouldn't tackle media ownership and TV violence. Officially, senators are obligated to stop colleagues from larding budget bills with unrelated legislation. That protocol is often ignored to accommodate lawmakers' pet projects. Budget bills are favorite vehicles for measures too controversial to win approval on their own. Rather than jeopardize a "must-pass" bill, Congress often looks the other way when budget measures contain extraneous pieces. The House has already passed an anti-indecency bill.

Settling the Score

To clear up its indecency problems with the feds, radio giant Clear Channel agreed to pay $1.75 million to the U.S. Treasury to settle three proposed fines, one involving Howard Stern. The deal also closes the 10 FCC investigations into raunchy Clear Channel broadcasts. But the settlement went beyond money. The company promised to suspend employees accused of violating government indecency standards. It will also add delays to its broadcasts, as well as institute training programs for on-air talent and programmers. The FCC agreed not to launch investigations into another 27 pending indecency complaints. The fine is the largest single indecency fine in FCC history. (See Editorial, page 36)

Minority Report

Broadcasters and cable systems fear that they may be exposed to hiring-discrimination lawsuits. A new FCC ruling requires them to break down the ethnic and gender makeup of their work force in annual reports. The FCC insists the data will be used only to track industry trends, not to judge whether companies' recruiting efforts are sound. But lawyers for more than 50 state broadcast associations say that, if a station's numbers become public, it could become a target for lawsuits from individuals and activist groups. Industry groups are asking that employment stats be kept confidential. The FCC is considering the request.

Mixed Signals

Broadcasters claim satellite radio will hurt stations' local programming and steal audience. Which is why Media Access Project and other groups are asking the FCC to show some backbone and ignore the NAB's complaint about XM Satellite Radio's local traffic and weather reports, covering roughly 20 cities. Commercial broadcasters are "increasingly failing to provide local service," MAP tells the FCC. It makes no sense, the group contends, to eliminate a rival that fills part of the gap. MAP is asking the FCC to delay reviewing the NAB petition to shut down XM's reports until it wraps up a broader review of how well commercial TV and radio stations serve local-programming needs.

Setting Priorities

With a full plate of complicated DTV and anti-piracy issues, the Consumer Electronics Association has decided its Tech Policy Group needs more muscle. Former MCI attorney Julie Kearney has been hired to lobby the FCC on behalf of CEA, the trade group for TV-set manufacturers. Kearney, who lobbied the Commerce and State Departments on trade policy, is charged with representing CEA on global issues, such as exports and intellectual-property protection.