[from our friends at AFTRA:]
Speak Out to the Senate on Indecency - No Individual Performer Fines!
TAKE ACTION to encourage the Senate to protect First Amendment free speech rights by carefully considering the ramifications of dramatically increased indecency fines.
The Senate is poised to vote on its own version of legislation purportedly intended to curb indecency on the airwaves. The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act (S. 193) currently does not contain fines on individual performers and announcers, nor does a similar bill aimed at broadcast violence sponsored by Senators Rockefeller (D-WV) and Hutchison (R-TX). We must act now to make sure those individual fines don't get added.
The version of the bill passed by the House dramatically increases the fines for "perceived" broadcast indecency on individual citizens nearly fifty-fold (from $11,000 to $500,000 - the same amount as that levied against large multi-million dollar broadcast corporations). The House also added first offense fines, eliminating the existing warning. This dramatic fine increase on individual Americans raises profound and serious First Amendment issues. Due to uncertain, vague, and changing definitions of indecency, this disproportionate fine would have a significant chilling impact on free and creative discourse and programming over the American airwaves.
While we made some headway in mitigating the House bill, AFTRA has always held the core position that performers and announcers who appear on the air or before the microphone are rarely, if ever, responsible for making programming decisions. Although AFTRA does not support the abrogation of personal responsibility, clearly it is the broadcast licensees and networks who not only determine whether and when particular content will be aired, but also reap the financial reward of airing such content. In many instances because of tape delay or voice tracking the programming isn t even aired live.
The public understands that free speech is fundamentally threatened when standards are vague and penalties are both excessive and misdirected. Given the fact that the Federal Communications Commission has never fined an individual performer or announcer, this legislation codifies a striking shift away from the FCC s long-standing policy that holds the broadcast licensee responsible for programming decisions.
Moreover, with the move away from localism and towards corporate programming created by deregulation, community standards unfortunately no longer enter into the broadcast licensee s content decisions.
In the interest of fundamental fairness, the full Senate should reject this or any indecency proposal that foists the financial responsibility for programming decisions made by licensees onto individual performers or announcers. The threat to First Amendment freedom of speech posed by half million dollar ($500,000) fines on individual citizens is too great. The increased fines on broadcasters in S. 193 will be sufficient to achieve the Senate's goal of curbing indecency on the airwaves by penalizing the responsible party.
Send a letter to the following decision maker(s):
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Below is the sample letter:
Subject: Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act
Dear [decision maker name automatically inserted here],
I am writing to request that you carefully consider the implications of passage of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act (S. 193), or similar legislation, currently before you. This bill, particularly in the form passed by the House (H.R. 310), represents a direct threat to one of America's most basic values - free speech.
Although neither the Senate version of the bill nor the Rockefeller-Hutchison bill on media violence currently contains fine increases for individuals, the potential inclusion of dramatic fine increases on individuals raises profound and serious First Amendment issues. Due to uncertain, vague, and changing definitions of indecency, this disproportionate fine would have a significant chilling impact on free and creative discourse and programming over the public airwaves.
As you know, the version of the bill passed by the House dramatically increases the fines for "perceived" broadcast indecency on individual citizens nearly fifty-fold ( from $11,000 to $500,000 - the same amount as that levied against large multi-million dollar broadcast corporations). The House also added first offense fines, eliminating the existing warning. To the extent you deem an increase in the fines necessary, please continue to support the current version of the Senate bill, which assesses fines for broadcast decency violations against the broadcast licensees rather than against the individual performers and announcers.
It is important to keep this issue in perspective. Most Americans agree with President Bush, that parents - not the government - are in the best position to monitor and assess what is appropriate for their children. The "outrage" appears to emanate primarily from a single group - the Parent's Television Council - with a censorship agenda that does not reflect the views of most citizens.
Given the fact that the Federal Communications Commission has never fined an individual performer or announcer, this legislation codifies a striking shift away from the FCC's long-standing policy that holds the broadcast licensee is responsible for programming decisions.
It has always been a cost of doing business for the broadcast licensee to take on the potential risk of provocative and mature programming in seeking to maximize profits. The licensee assumes the FCC obligations, reaps the benefits, chooses the programming and has the option to eliminate any risk by using a delay. To the extent the profits flow to the licensee, so should the responsibility for fines that are levied. The fine increases on individuals contained in the House version of the bill are the equivalent of the EPA fining individual employees for the lax environmental standards condoned by their employer.
Thank you for your consideration and your courage. It is easy to be swept up in the tide of the current outrage and much harder to stand up and question the cost of the solution to our ba sic American principles. In this case - with free speech at issue - the solution comes at too great a price.
What's At Stake:
Encourage the Senate to carefully consider the ramifications of legislation that increases fines for broadcast "indecency."
Campaign Expiration Date:
May 16, 2005