On-air indecency must come to an end

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, February 25, 2004

By Staff
It's not too often that I get to take a few minutes for myself and lie back on the couch with the remote control to do some television channel surfing. After all, my responsibilities as a father and husband -- and your representative in Congress -- require my full attention.
So when the rare opportunity does come up for a few minutes of down time, I like to take those moments and relax with a quality television show.
Unfortunately, some of what I have seen on the airwaves in recent months has been very disturbing and hardly relaxing. I refer, of course, to two specific events which took place during the Golden Globes in January 2003, and during the halftime show of the Super Bowl earlier this month.
The firestorm generated by these two incidents, as well as a ruling issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) following "the Bono incident," has been incredible. My offices in Washington, Mobile and Baldwin County have been flooded with phone calls, letters and faxes expressing outrage at the actions of Bono, Janet Jackson and the FCC.
For those of you who might not be aware, the first incident -- involving Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2 -- occurred at the annual Golden Globe awards in January 2003. After receiving an award, Bono in his acceptance speech used an obscenity in describing his excitement. The obscenity, referred to as the "f-word," was not caught in time by television censors and was not bleeped out.
In October of last year, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau ruled that Bono's use of the "f-word" did not violate obscenity laws. In the ruling, David H. Solomon, the director of the Bureau, stated that the word was used as an adjective and that "the use of specific words, including expletives or other 'four-letter words,' does not render material obscene."
Let me state from the outset that like millions of Americans, I am outraged over this decision.
While television networks have issued statements asserting their view that this ruling does not mean language on basic cable and network television shows will become more graphic, I disagree and am incensed at both the example this sets and the impact it may have on family television viewing and on young, impressionable children.
Truth be told, as a parent I am having a difficult time trying to explain this to my children and clarify the difference between adjectives and verbs, the distinction drawn by the Enforcement Bureau.
The FCC is currently reviewing this decision. In the meantime and in response to the lack of immediate action by the FCC, Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia has introduced H. Res. 482. This bill, which I have cosponsored, expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that it disagrees with the October 2003, FCC ruling regarding the broadcast of program material containing indecent language.
Representative Doug Ose of California has also introduced H.R. 3687, a bill which would specifically ban eight profane words and phrases from public airwaves.
I am also encouraged by the actions of FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who has voiced opposition to the Enforcement Bureau's ruling, and by the four other commissioners who support his position.
As if the actions during the Golden Globes and the decision issued by the FCC were not enough, I'm sure all of you are aware of what took place during the halftime show of this year's Super Bowl.
This display is further proof of the material that seems to find its way -- accidentally or otherwise -- through television and into our homes.
Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan has also introduced a bill to provide the FCC with more ammunition to combat indecency incidents.
Upton, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 3717 on January 21. The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2004 would increase the current penalty for indecency violations from $27,500 to $275,000.

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