Next week will not be a good one for radio or television.
The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 goes into law next Friday, July 20. The maximum penalties for obscene, indecent and profane broadcasts will jump from $32,500 to $325,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation.
There’s a cap to what the Federal Communications Commission can extort…er…extract. Any continuing violation cannot exceed $3 million for any single act.
Those numbers aren’t typos.
Bet on the right-wing Christian coalitions having plans in place to launch their attack on anything they deem even remotely obscene. They have to be salivating like hyenas while awaiting their first victim.
Their idea of heaven is sanitized, insipid programming and the freedom to censor. It’s trading in patriotism for hatriotism - the act of hating whatever the government tells you to hate.
What got them all riled up? Try Janet Jackson’s barely-there breast on Super Bowl XXXVIII (doesn’t that seem like it happened twenty years ago?) and their well-documented f-bombs by Cher, Nicole Ritchie, and Bono on live TV.
The bill was introduced back in 2005 by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).
The chain of events leading to this law started when the National Association of Broadcasters, the lobby group for radio and television, disregarded the emergent campaigns against indecency from organizations like the Parents Television Council, the Christian Coalition, The Coalition for Human Decency, Culture and Family Institute, Morality in Media, Family Research Council, Citizens for Community Values, and even the Salvation Army. They teamed up and called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enforce what they called “commonsense decency standards.”
The high priest of Capitol Hill conservatism Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) used parliamentary procedure to bypass committee to bring Sen. Brownback's indecency bill to a nearly empty Senate floor. Under the rules, with no one objecting, the bill passed through the Senate by unanuimous consent.
Since it was an election year, no flesh-pressing, glad-handing, hand-shaking, office-seeking or office-holding politico would dare challenge an indecency bill.
You know the drill in U.S. politics. It’s the reds v. the blues. You’re either for indecency or against it. So, the most of the House put their interns and pages back in an upright position so they could march down the hall to vote on this bill.
It passed by a 379 to 35 vote, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on June 15. 2006.
"I believe that government has a responsibility to help strengthen families,” said Bush during the bill signing revelry last year. “This legislation will make television and radio more family friendly by allowing the FCC to impose stiffer fines on broadcasters who air obscene or indecent programming."
I must be mistaken. Didn’t Bush run both of his presidential campaigns on restricting government influence - not increasing it?
Was he for it before he was against it? There seems to be a lot of that coming from his side of the fence these days.
Bush invited a Who’s Who of Pro-Censorship stewards to his political promiscuity bill signing bash. In addition to Brownback and Frist, the guest list included Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK), George Allen (R-VA), and House Majority Leader and Congressmen John Boehner (R-OH), Fred Upton (R-MI), Bobby Rush (R-IL), Chip Pickering (R-MS), Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The scent of smug self-regard had to be overwhelming. This group is evidence enough that intelligent design is improbable.
Question: Would it be considered an indecent broadcast when Bush said "See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over" to Tony Blair since it was picked up by a open mic?
How about that incident a couple of years back when a live mic picked up Vice President and string-puller Dick Cheney telling Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to perform an impossible sex act on himself that begins with the letter f?
Then there was that incident in Naperville, Ill. when Bush, oblivious to the live mic in front of him, spotted New York Times reporter Adam Clymer in the crowd and said to Dick Cheney, "There's Adam Clymer, major league asshole, from the New York Times."
How about his first public gaffe, which occurred at the 1988 Republican Convention, when Hartford Courant associate editor David Fink asked Bush, "When you're not talking politics," what do you and (your father) talk about?"
"Pussy," he replied.
Actually, the answers to these questions are found in a quote from a Bush appearance in Austin, Texas a number of years ago: "The legislature's job is to write law. It's the executive branch's job to interpret law."
Bush could’ve gotten away with his earliest gaffes but in 2004 the FCC ruled that any use of the variations of the f-word and the s-word, just to name two, is reason enough to levy fines on broadcasters, even if it’s a slip of the tongue.
My question is where was David Johansen look-a-like David Rehr in all of this?
Since 2005, David Rehr has served as President and Chief Executive of the National Association of Broadcasters, the lobbying group for radio and television companies. He came to the NAB from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, where he served as its President. He has no broadcast experience. No problem there. Record Industry Association of America chairman Mitch Bainwol had no prior involvement in the record industry other than occasionally buying a Barry Manilow album or two.
Back to Rehr running beer. At the 2005 National Beer Wholesalers Association convention in Vegas, he claimed, “There are foes poised to destroy us. We need to fight for beer’s rightful place in American culture (and) regain what is rightfully ours."
Microbrews and imports were part of his enemies’ list.
He assailed the American Medical Association (AMA), for trying to get the NCAA to bar beer commercials from college sports programming. “There were more than 120,000 accidental deaths caused by physicians last year,” he said. “You would think that might be a little more pressing than beer advertising."
Fortune Magazine chose Rehr in their Power Rankings of the 25 most influential lobbying groups in Washington, DC. After he joined the NBWA, its Political Action Committee became one of the top ten money-shoveling PACs on Capitol Hill.
In Washington they call it coincidental connections.
Rehr is also a “Bush Pioneer,” having raised over $100,000 in individual contributions for the Bush-Cheney reelection drive.
So I ask the question again – Where was David Rehr? Specifically, where was he when everyone from Brownback to Bush put the screws to the broadcast industry?
At the time of Rehr’s coronation, he said. “I look forward to continuing the great work of radio and television broadcasters on Capitol Hill and in the public arena." What happened? Too many beer keg parties with the Ibiquity HD Radio folks?
This past week found the directionally-challenged Rehr in hiding. Instead, the NAB trotted out a spokesperson, Dennis Wharton, to respond to the new law. He wimply said, “In issues related to programming content, NAB believes responsible self-regulation is preferable to government regulation. If there is regulation, it should be applied equally to cable and satellite TV, and satellite radio."
Maybe Rehr assumed that being a “Bush pioneer” would have the Prez paying back the favor by burying the bill and not signing it into law until a few alterations were made to his liking. Instead, Rehr got the message. The pioneers get all the arrows.