Broadcasters Fight Back on Indecency

May 9, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A network TV-backed campaign to fight escalating efforts by the federal government to crack down on off-color programming was playing to rave reviews last week-at least among some broadcasters.

“I’m glad the networks are leading the way on this fundamental issue,” said Bill O’Shaughnessy, chairman of Whitney Broadcasting. “The dirty little secret of our profession is that the First Amendment has really taken a back seat to the bottom line.”

Added Stanley Hubbard, chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, “It’s about time that somebody stood up to speak for the overwhelming majority of the American people who are capable of making up their own minds and raising their own families.”

The cause for the cheering was the creation of TV Watch, a new coalition that has the financial support of Fox Broadcasting owner News Corp., NBC parent NBC Universal and CBS owner Viacom-all of the corporate parents of Big 4 TV networks except ABC parent The Walt Disney Co.

A key mission of the coalition will be to educate consumers and federal regulators about the v-chip and other controls that consumers can already use to block objectionable programming from reaching their homes.

“We’re starting to push back,” said Jim Dyke, TV Watch executive director and a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

During a teleconference to announce the new group last week, coalition members also rolled out Exhibit A in their campaign: A poll conducted for the coalition by Luntz Research and Peter D. Hart Associates that says the vast majority of the public believe they should be able to choose for themselves what they view in their homes-not the government.

Among the key findings in the national survey of adults was that 92 percent of the 1,002 canvassed said that while they don’t always like the content of programs they watch, they would rather make that decision for themselves than have the government make the decision for them.

The survey also said 86 percent of those interviewed think more parental involvement is a better solution than increased government involvement in controlling what children see on TV.

In addition, coalition members, who declined to reveal the group’s budget, made clear that they are taking on the Parents Television Council and other groups that have been pushing for additional government content controls.

“Just because you have `Parents’ in the name of your group doesn’t mean you represent them all,” said Adam Thierer, a member of TV Watch who is also a fellow at Washington’s Progress & Freedom Foundation.

In response, L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, said: “This supposed `coalition’ needs to be taken-and dismissed-for what it is: a collection of random citizen and public policy groups that have simply been hired and paid for by the networks to do their dirty work.”

Mr. Bozell’s sentiments notwithstanding, the coalition-which includes organizations such as the American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform-has vowed to do battle with the concept that sterner regulation is the appropriate government response to indecency concerns, an idea that has been in vogue since Janet Jackson bared her breast during last year’s Super Bowl.

“I’m not saying people aren’t concerned about content,” Mr. Dyke said in an interview. “What we are saying is there is another way.”

The coalition would certainly be stronger if it had all of the industry onboard. But as of late last week the National Association of Broadcasters had no comment on the organization. The Walt Disney Co., according to a spokeswoman, opted to go its own way.

“We are involved in providing consumers the ability to make educated choices through our public service campaign,” said Julie Hoover, a spokeswoman for Disney’s ABC. “The end result is the same, even if we choose a different approach.”

Breaking ranks with others in the cable TV industry, Disney has also argued that the industry would be better off if lawmakers extend broadcast indecency regulation to cable’s enhanced basic tier than if cable were forced to provide a family-friendly tier of programming or offer their programming a la carte.

Added Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which recently announced a similar educational initiative by the cable TV industry: “We support their mission of educating parents to use existing tools and resources to make responsible viewing decisions.”

Coalition representatives also said they plan to fight government controls for all forms of television, including cable and satellite.

The group’s survey didn’t ask whether the public supported requiring cable and satellite operators to provide a family-friendly tier of programming-an idea that is currently being promoted by key lawmakers.

Said Mr. Thierer: “[A family tier requirement] is just censorship under another name.”

In addition to News Corp., NBC Universal and Viacom, the following organizations are members of TV Watch: American Conservative Union; Americans for Tax Reform; Center for Creative Voices in Media; Creative Coalition; Media Freedom Project; Media Institute; SpeakSpeak and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.