The legislative response to Nipple-Gate continues – last week a souped-up indecency bill was unanimously approved in the Senate. If signed, it will raise broadcast indecency fines to ten times their current level. Bob speaks with the bill’s sponsor, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.
BOB GARFIELD: And now a brief update, as we continue to track the fallout from Janet Jackson's Nipple-Gate incident. On May 18th, the Senate voted unanimously for a bill that would significantly raise FCC fines for offending broadcasters – tenfold, to be exact. The maximum is now 32,500 dollars per offense, a figure that would increase to 325,000 dollars if the bill is signed into law. Now the bill is headed to the House, and many predict that this version stands the best chance of making it to the president's desk. I asked Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, who authored the Senate bill, whether it's true that two years post-Janet, Congress just needs something to take back the constituents.
SAM BROWNBACK: I don't think that's true. This is something that's been percolating around the system for a long time. It passed the last Congress, 98 to 1. The problem hasn't gone away. It keeps growing. But it has had a lot of dedicated sub-surface opposition, and that's really slowed the process.
BOB GARFIELD: The FCC ruled pretty much that while I can't talk about my excretory functions without putting WNYC and our affiliate stations at risk, I can call somebody a dickhead with impunity. Now, isn't that kind of kind of arbitrary for meting out 300,000-dollar fines?
SAM BROWNBACK: Like any process that has some judgment involved, there is a subjectivity in some degree, but they tried to set and they did set as objective standards as they can. And they are trying [LAUGHS] to send a message to the industry of, “Please, if you're going to use this license, you've agreed to a certain standard.” And I think most people believe that the culture has substantially coarsened, and it's been moved along by television and radio, and they don't agree with that.
BOB GARFIELD: If this bill is signed into law by the President, will you stop here, or will you attempt, perhaps, to get similar regulation for cable, satellite, Internet and the various other channels that content can come into people's homes?
SAM BROWNBACK: Well, the Supreme Court is determined that we cannot address the issues on cable because it is different. Now, they said that at a time when there wasn't the level of penetration of cable across the country, and it may be so pervasive now that they allow it. But most of those issues are dealt with on a community basis, based upon a community standard of decency. And I do think you're probably going to start to see more communities step up, taking back some of their culture on this basis that's allowed for by the court on community standards.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Senator, thank you very much.
SAM BROWNBACK: Thank you. You all take care.
BOB GARFIELD: Sam Brownback is Republican senator from Kansas.