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FCC Told to Open Violence Inquiry; Brownback Eyes Viacom

The House Energy & Commerce Committee is giving Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell marching orders to open an inquiry into TV violence.

According to a letter being drafted, Chairman Joe Barton, Telecommunication Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, and ranking Democrats John Dingell and Ed Markey are giving the FCC 60 days to start looking into "the issue of excessively violent broadcast programming and its impact on children."

The committee has decided, for now, not to expand the definition of indecency to include violence, but that is primarily because it would have been a dealbreaker in the indecency enforcement bill that was voted up 49-to-1 today.

Elsewhere on the indecency front, Sen. Sam Brownback, who has introduced a Senate bill to raise indecency fines, has written Viacom President Mel Karmazin asking that he detail the company’s policy on broadcast of indecent material.

Citing reports of the establishment of a zero tolerance policy and Karmazin’s pledge to Congress that Viacom wouldn’t be a poster child for indecency, Brownback asked that Karmazin spell that policy out.

He was particularly concerned about the Feb. 24 Howard Stern broadcast that prompted Clear Channel to dump the shock jock. Brownback thought the broadcast was indecent but Infinity apparently didn’t. A Viacom spokesman said it had received the letter, "and we will respond."