February 8, 2005
House Commerce Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
We understand that the House Energy and Commerce Committee will soon markup H.R. 310, the so-called Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005. The purpose of this correspondence is to advise you of our opposition to this legislation in its present form.
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 the legislation represents an overall threat to constitutionally-protected freedom of expression over the airways, what is particularly objectionable about H. R. 310 is its targeting of individual artists as well as on-air talent for so-called violations of vague and ambiguous decency standards. The legislation proposes 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.
This represents 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 H.R. 310 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. Now Congress, through legislation such as H.R. 310, would 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 support efforts to remove from this legislation the increased penalties for either media workers as well as individual citizens. Failing that, we urge your vote against H.R. 310.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of our views.
Paul E. Almeida