The Slippery Slope On Indecency

Judging by his latest proposal to combat indecency, James Sensenbrenner III, R-Wis, must not have the word “overkill” in his vocabulary:

“Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner III, R-Wis., told cable industry executives attending the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. conference here on Monday that criminal prosecution would be a more efficient way to enforce the indecency regulations.

“I’d prefer using the criminal process rather than the regulatory process,” Sensenbrenner told the executives.

The current system — in which the FCC fines a licensee for violating the regulations — casts too wide a net, he said, trapping those who are attempting to reign in smut on TV and those who are not.

“People who are in flagrant disregard should face a criminal process rather than a regulator process,” Sensenbrenner said. “That is the way to go. Aim the cannon specifically at the people committing the offenses, rather than the blunderbuss approach that gets the good actors.

“The people who are trying to do the right thing end up being penalized the same way as the people who are doing the wrong thing.”

It was unclear exactly how he would go about criminalizing violations of the indecency statutes. Typically, the Federal Communications Commission notifies the alleged offender and, if no settlement is reached, issues a fine.

When asked how he intended to criminalize the violations, Sensenbrenner repeated his assertion that it was the best way to penalize people who violate the statute but avoid “penalizing people who are not violating the law.”

Sensenbrenner, Ted Stevens out of Alaska, these guys are just out of control and need to be given a reality check.

It’s one thing to start tossing around huge fines over Janet Jackson unexpectedly flashing a Super Bowl audience that was full of children. That’s understandable and, quite frankly, if you’re not going to step up to the plate and do something in a situation like that, you might as well not have indecency laws at all.

But after that, they upped the fines for indecency on radio programs to the point where in effect, it amounts to stealth censorship, because the fines are so high that even programs that make beaucoups of money, like Howard Stern, can’t afford to pay the fines.

Now we’re talking about applying indecency statutes to Cable TV, which is nutty given that a lot of cable companies already allow parents to block channels they don’t want their kids to see. If you don’t want your kid watching “South Park” or “Sex in City,” either don’t order cable or just block it. Why does the government need to be involved in that?

On top of all this, we’ve got Sensenbrenner talking about criminal prosecution for indecency charges which is pretty scary when you consider that what qualifies as “indecent” is inherently subjective. Imagine someone actually being sent to jail for making a “lewd” comment on TV that other Americans on the internet or in bars, sports arenas, or around the water cooler could say with impunity. That seems to be the direction that we’re heading towards unless something changes.

Since the Janet Jackson incident, Sensenbrenner & company have been downhill skiing on the slippery slope of indecency regulations and it’s time they were told to brake hard.

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