AFTRA Testifies Before U.S. Senate Committee
Defends Individuals Against Fines for Corporate Decisions
Washington, DC, November 29, 2005 – The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) today testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s “Open Forum on Decency.” As a representative of broadcasters and recording artists, AFTRA expressed grave concerns about certain provisions contained in the bill addressing this subject that was passed by the House of Representatives.
Tom Carpenter, AFTRA’s General Counsel/Director of Legislative Affairs, joined a panel that included Bruce Reese of the National Association of Broadcasters and Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, among others. Carpenter told the Senate Committee: “The airwaves belong to the American people. The government holds this valuable resource in trust in granting licenses to private companies to use that valuable public resource, and to exploit it for profit.”
“Our telecommunications policy is predicated on the idea that the quid pro quo for free access to exploit this public resource is that the public interest should be served. This is an important distinction. Licensees get access to a public resource and they should be expected to serve the public interest. But individual citizens are not licensed; they are employees who are hired to be the faces and voices on the air. They are individuals who work for media companies, and are employed pursuant to employment contracts. Those employment contracts provide that individuals can be disciplined or fired for either failing to comply with the employer’s policies, or failing to comply with FCC regulations. But at the root of all this is the fundamental principle that licensees, not individuals, are responsible for programming decisions.”
“AFTRA is very concerned about provisions of the House bill that would provide for fines of up to $500,000, with no warning mechanism, against individuals. The House bill would fine individuals who simply aren’t making the decisions about what goes out over the air up to half a million dollars. It would levy a fine of $500,000 for a radio traffic reporter that makes $15,000 a year, who has no control over the button that determines whether or not his or her voice goes over the air.”
“A few highly-compensated stars make significant and substantial salaries, but the vast majority of broadcast industry on-air employees do not earn six figure salaries. Some barely earn five figure salaries – in small-market radio, for example.”
“Individuals who do not bear the public service obligations of holding an FCC license should not be held liable for the programming decisions that their employers make. It is one thing for the government to fine a licensee for failing its obligations to meet the public interest. It’s a very different matter, and one that raises serious First Amendment implications, for government entities to fine an individual for the content of his or her speech, merely because someone else chose to broadcast it.”
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – affiliated with the AFL-CIO – is a diverse national union representing over 70,000 professional performers, broadcasters, and recording artists in 32 Locals throughout the country. AFTRA members work as actors, broadcast journalists, dancers, singers, announcers, hosts, comedians, and disc jockeys in all aspects of the media industries including television and radio, sound recordings, commercials, non-broadcast/industrials, interactive games, and the Internet. For more information, visit AFTRA online at www.aftra.com.
Christopher de Haan