For all the faults, misdeeds, propaganda and monopolistic abuse of Big Media, either hell has frozen over or Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, made a strong case against censorship in a Wall Street Journal editorial.
A couple of years ago, Janet Jackson’s breast proved to be more powerful than any other media organism. It sucked up all the airtime from cable news, talk radio, and other outlets. Its impact extended to Washington, invading the White House, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. The result was a new set of indecency regulations that increased penalties for naughty behavior and put broadcasters on notice that such shenanigans would no longer be tolerated.
Mr. Wright, in his editorial, pointed out that these new rules were likely to create a “climate of self-censorship,” and that’s exactly what happened. Networks recently have declined to air programs like “Saving Private Ryan,” and 9/11 documentaries because they contained language that real people use in real life. He further noted that the evolution of the media marketplace has produced a vastly different landscape than that under which the indecency rules were originally established and he offered up this formula to illustrate the FCC’s anachronistic stance:
“Do the math: 85% of households have cable and satellite, leaving 15% receiving broadcast TV only. Two-thirds of those households do not have kids under 18. Thus, the FCC appears to be basing its actions on a policy that is relevant to 5% of households.”
This effectively spotlights the inane response on the part of the FCC and political puritans to the presence of adult themes on television. Their efforts to sanitize broadcasting so that it never contains content that might be objectionable to anyone over six years of age stifles creativity and speech. It’s a kind of censorship that discriminates against mature ideas and places limits on discussions that affect all Americans, even the young ones. The self-censorship, that stems from broadcasters fearful of stiff fines, affects everything from movies to sitcoms to news magazines. And it holds all viewers hostage to the sensitivities of children and their disingenuous, moralistic protectors.
I should note that Mr. Wright’s position fits nicely with his industry’s philosophy of eliminating all regulations imposed on it. Perhaps he is just lobbying to keep the government at bay as he does with other regulatory issues like ownership and consolidation. But the bottom line is that, in this case, he’s right, and the over-reaching moralizing of federal agencies must not be permitted to impair the free expression of diverse entertainment and educational programming.