WASHINGTON -- An effort in Congress to dramatically increase the fines that federal regulators can slap on broadcasters for airing indecent material has failed, at least for now.
Lawmakers were considering raising the maximum fine from $32,500 to as much as $500,000 per incident, but that idea died this week when House and Senate negotiators could not reach agreement on a final plan.
The proposal stemmed from the uproar over Janet Jackson's breast-baring dance at the Super Bowl in February. The House voted to raise the fine to $500,000, while the Senate voted to increase it to $275,000 per incident, with a cap of $3 million per day.
House and Senate negotiators trying to reconcile differences between the two measures had agreed to compromise language that would have raised the fines to $500,000 per incident with a $3 million cap per day, according to two congressional aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity since the negotiations were in private. The plan also would have given the Federal Communications Commission clear authority to fine artists and personalities for indecency on the public airwaves.
But the measure was scuttled because House and Senate negotiators could not agree on two other media measures attached to the legislation that included the fine increase.
One, offered by Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, would have blocked media ownership rules that the FCC adopted last year. Those rules, which critics say benefit huge media conglomerates, have been thrown out by a federal appeals court. The FCC is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The other measure, by Senator Ernest Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, would have required the FCC to study the V-chip and television ratings, and whether children were being protected from violence on TV.
Support for hiking the indecency fines is overwhelming in the House and Senate, but the House Republican leadership has been cool to rolling back the ownership rules.
A call to the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, was not immediately returned.
Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, who sponsored the indecency fine hike, will try again, said spokesman Brian Hart.
FCC spokesman Richard Diamond declined to comment.