Bush Signs Decency Bill Into Law

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - President Bush Thursday signed a decency bill into law that increases tenfold the fines levied against broadcasters who violate decency standards with profane or sexual material. The new fine is $325,000 per violation, instead of $32,500.

During the signing ceremony, Bush said "parents have the final responsibility over the television shows that their children watch, or the websites they visit, or the music they listen to."

"One thing they can do if they're worried about people watching a bad program is to turn off the TV," said Bush. But broadcasters also "play a valuable role in protecting our children from obscene and indecent programming," he said.

"They provide the tools that empower parents to make good decisions, which [are] voluntary rating systems and the V-chip. And we applaud those," said the president.

"Broadcasters also have a duty to respect common decency, to take into account the public interest and to keep the public airwaves free of indecent material, especially during the hours when children are most likely to be watching and listening," Bush added.

The president noted that the use of profane language on television has increased over the years by 95 percent from 1988 to 2002. "In other words, the language is becoming coarser during the times when it's more likely children will be watching television. It's a bad trend, a bad sign," he said.

"Since 2000, the number of indecency complaints received by the FCC has increased from just hundreds per year to hundreds of thousands. In other words, people are saying, we're tired of it and we expect the government to do something about it," Bush said.

And now with the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, the FCC will have more power with which to enforce decency statutes.

"By allowing the FCC to levy stiffer and more meaningful fines on broadcasters who violate decency standards, this law will ensure that broadcasters take seriously their duty to keep the public airwaves free of obscene, profane and indecent material. American families expect and deserve nothing less," Bush said.

Concerned Women for America, which was on hand during the signing ceremony, praised the law as "a tremendous victory" for "the grassroots who have worked to see this bill's passage" and "every family across America."

"Broadcasters will finally be held financially responsible for blatantly abusing broadcast decency standards. Up until now, broadcasting fines have been a drop in the bucket for millionaire broadcast corporations. Hopefully, a steep hike in fines will cause them to think twice before televising flagrant filth," said Lanier Swann, director of Government Relations for CWA, in a statement.

Focus on the Family Senior Analyst for Media and Sexuality Daniel Weiss called the bill's passage "a victory for American families fed up with the increasingly vile and indecent programming found on broadcast radio and TV."

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, following passage of the House bill in February 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union warned that the legislation was "the first step toward ensuring that not only our First Amendment rights suffer, but the national dialogue as well."

"In the end, we'll be left with no clear understanding of just what is 'indecent' and worse yet, it seems we will only find out when huge fines are levied on broadcasters or speakers," Marvin Johnson, an American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, said last year.

Johnson also complained that the definition of "indecent" could change based on a variety of factors. He pointed to an FCC ruling that judged the "f-word" used by Bono, lead singer of U2, during the Golden Globes "indecency." But, Johnson noted that a later televised showing of the uncensored movie, "Saving Private Ryan" resulted in no fines being assessed, even though the movie contained several instances of the "f-word."

"The ambiguity in FCC standards of indecency is such that they can be selectively enforced, based on the content of the speech or who is speaking," Johnson added. "This isn't about four-letter words on prime-time cop dramas; it's about our ability to publicly access and express ideas and arguments."
See Earlier Story:
Senate Approves Tenfold Increase in Indecency Fines (May 19, 2006)

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