Nadler Statement in Opposition to Broadcast Censorship

Feb 15, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives today debated and passed H.R. 310, the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act.  The bill would substantially increase fines on individual artists and broadcasters.  Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) spoke on the House floor in strong opposition to the bill.  His remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:


“Mr. Speaker, no one wants to get up and defend indecency, and I certainly don’t propose to deliver a stirring defense of indecent programming.  In fact, like many Americans, I exercise my right not to view programming I find offensive by using that miracle of modern technology: the remote control.  It lets you change the channel, or even turn off the TV entirely.  I recommend everyone run out, buy one, and learn how to use it.

But the prurient puritans of this House are not satisfied with free choice and the free market.  Instead, they want the government to decide what is or is not appropriate for the public to watch or listen to.

Just recently, for example, the Secretary of Education, on her second day on the job, snapped into action and threatened public broadcasting funding if they dared air a show in which real live families, with real live same-sex parents, would appear.  It was actually a show about making maple syrup, not an advocacy piece about family arrangements.  But it was too much for the Secretary of Education.

‘Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode,’ Spellings wrote in her threatening letter to Pat Mitchell, the CEO of PBS.  Who asked her?

A former member of this House condemned NBC for airing ‘Schlindler’s List,’ saying the Holocaust film took network television "to an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity" shown during a family viewing time.  He said that NBC's decision to air the movie on Sunday evening should outrage parents and ‘decent-minded individuals everywhere.’   Then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato rightly said ‘To equate the nudity of Holocaust victims in the concentration camps with any sexual connotation is outrageous and offensive.’

So what next?  We are already seeing a great deal of self-censorship as the self-appointed guardians of public decency go after anything that offends them personally.  Evidently they don’t trust Americans to make up their own minds, and the large corporations that own media conglomerates are not about to risk profits by running afoul of people with power and their own agenda.

I would suggest that, if my colleagues are looking for obscene and indecent material, they turn off their televisions and log on to www.congress.gov.  On the Judiciary Committee web site, you can find sexually graphic material, including graphic sexual accounts in the Starr Report.  Children doing their homework everywhere can read this.  In the last Congress, a member of this House introduced legislation containing eight words that would probably draw a $500,000 fine under this legislation.  Our Legislative Information System still has this up for anyone to read.

Mr. Speaker, Congress has no business telling people what they can or cannot watch, what sorts of tolerance it will or it will not tolerate, or what values parents may or may not instill in their children.

You don’t have to love indecency to oppose this bill.   You only have to have faith in, and respect for, the judgment of the American people.”

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