WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday substantially increasing the maximum fine for radio and TV indecency.
The vote was 391-22. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.
"I am tired of hearing parents tell me how they have to cover their children's ears," Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., said during debate on the measure. "Today, we're saying enough is enough."
The bill would raise the maximum fine for a broadcast license-holder from $27,500 to $500,000. The fine for a performer would jump from $11,000 to $500,000.
The measure picked up momentum after the now-infamous Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show during which singer Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's breast to 90 million viewers.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said the bill will give the Federal Communications Commission "the ammunition it needs" to enforce indecency standards.
The Bush administration strongly endorsed the bill in a memo to lawmakers Thursday.
Critics said the legislation would undermine free speech rights.
"We're moving in a direction of undermining the First Amendment," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
On Wednesday, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists sent a letter to House members objecting to the provision allowing the FCC to fine individual performers for indecency.
"Such legislation should be rejected on the grounds that it represents an unconstitutional threat to free speech and would have an unnecessary chilling effect on artistic freedom," said the letter from union president John Connolly and national executive director Greg Hessinger.
But Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said performers should be liable if they violate indecency standards. "You can't tell me that they don't know what the standards are," he said.
Clear Channel Communications, the nation's largest radio station chain, announced last month that it would require its disc jockeys to pay part of any indecency fines.
The company last week agreed to pay a record $755,000 fine for broadcasts of a show titled "Bubba the Love Sponge."
Clear Channel also fired the disc jockey and, separately, suspended broadcasts of Howard Stern's radio show on its six stations that carried it.
The Senate also has a bill that would raise fines to $500,000. However, that measure goes further, ordering the FCC to look at ways to protect children from violence on television and putting on hold sweeping media ownership changes adopted by the FCC last year.
Federal law and FCC rules prohibit over-the-air radio and TV stations from airing material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuned in. There are no such restrictions for cable and satellite TV and satellite radio.
On the Net: Text of the bills, H.R. 3717 and S. 2056 are at: thomas.loc.gov
Federal Communications Commission indecency page: www.fcc.gov/parents/content.html