Commerce To Consider Bill Restoring FCC's Fleeting Profanity Powers

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has introduced a bill that would explicitly give the FCC the power to find a fleeting expletive indecent.

Backing the bill are Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), ranking member Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark), according to a Commerce Committee spokeswoman.

A federal appeals court in June ruled that the commission had not justified why it had changed long-standing policy in ruling that a fleeting profanity was indecent, reversing a bureau decision that adjectival interjections, like Bono's "fucking brilliant" on NBC's Golden Globes awards show, was not indecent.

That reversal had come after the FCC commissioners were brought before a congressional committee on the issue of indecency enforcement and asked specifically about that Bono decision.

Rockefeller's "Protecting Children From Indecent Programming Act" would "require the FCC, in enforcing its regulations concerning the broadcast of indecent programming, to maintain a policy that a single word or image may be considered indecent."

Senator Sam Brownback attempted to achieve the same result with an amendment to an appropriations bill Thursday, but it was defeated by voice vote, according to a hearing attendee, after Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and an appropriations committee member, pledged to mark up the Rockefeller bill in his committee next Thursday (July 19).

Several legislators were said to have favored a carve-out for sports--the occasionaly f-bombs and s-bombs from angry football players and NASCAR racers. There is already a high bar for news, though no absolute exemption..

Brownback did not introduce a planned amendment giving the FCC the power to regulate TV violence, but Rockefeller's office said Thursday the violence issue "will be taken care of in legislation to be introduced soon."

Rockefeller has been working for months on a re-introduction of a TV violence bill that did not go anywhere in the last Congress, a casualty of getting a bill that would pass raising FCC indeceny fines ten-fold.

But Congress is under new management, pointed out a source in the Senator's office, and there is some enthusiasm on the issue from Democrats. The bill would give the FCC the power to regulate cable and satellite violence is well.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.