April 6, 2005
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
Washington, D.C. 20510
We understand that the Senate Commerce Committee will soon markup S.193, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005.
This legislation is intended to discourage the airing of objectionable or indecent content by increasing the fines that the Federal Communications Commission can levy on licensed broadcasters. In its present form, the legislation—unlike the House–passed version—does not impose such fines on individual performers or broadcasters. The purpose of this correspondence is to urge you to oppose any effort to incorporate such sanctions into the pending legislation.
Our organization—the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO—includes among its affiliated organizations 10 national unions with nearly one-half million media professionals, artists, broadcasters, technicians, support workers as well as professional athletes who collectively are involved in all phases of news, entertainment and sports programming. In addition, the 25 unions which comprise our alliance encompass over 4 million union households with nearly 10 million television viewers in them who are consumers of broadcast programming.
While we believe that S. 193 undermines constitutionally-protected freedom of expression over the airways, in its present form it refrains from targeting individual artists as well as on-air talent for so-called violations of vague and ambiguous decency standards. On the other hand, the House version of this bill—H.R 310—does exactly that by including a near 50-fold increase—from $11,000 to $500,000—in the fines that could be levied against individual announcers and performers. In addition, the bill wipes away existing FCC warning procedures used as a precursor to implementing such fines.
Such penalties represent an extraordinary departure from existing enforcement protocols given the fact that the FCC has not sanctioned individual performers or announcers in the past for such alleged transgressions. In fact, the Commission heretofore has well understood that, in the final analysis, it is the licensee and not their employees or guests that are ultimately responsible for the content that is or is not transmitted to the public.
Finally it should be noted that the House bill may not just apply to broadcast entities and media personalities. The penalties within the legislation could be used to hammer individual citizens with substantial fines because, in the heat or excitement of the moment, they uttered an expletive deemed inappropriate by a listener or viewer.
In the last decade deregulation-driven media consolidation has undermined localism in broadcast television and radio and in the process served to diminish community coverage and standards. The imposition of performer sanctions would in effect reward these media monopolies by allowing them to escape full and complete accountability for their programming decisions by instead imposing huge statutory liabilities upon their media employees. In the environmental arena, this would be tantamount to allowing the EPA to sanction workers for the pollution violations of their employers.
We urge you to oppose any efforts to amend this legislation to increase penalties for either media workers or individual citizens. Failing that, we would urge your vote against S. 193.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of our views.
Paul E. Almeida