In an interview on C-SPAN set to air Sunday night, President Bush gave comfort to both sides in the fight over indecent programming on television.
In a sit-down White House interview with C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb, Bush said parents have an obligation to shield their children from inappropriate content and content providers have a duty not to stretch the limits on indecency.
“As a free-speech advocate, I often told parents who were complaining about content, ‘You're the first line of responsibility. They put an off button the TV for a reason. Turn it off.’ I do think, though … that government can, at times, not censor, but call to account programming that gets over the line. The problem, of course, is the definition [of] over the line,” Bush said, according to a transcript provided by C-SPAN.
TV stations are banned from airing indecent content between 6 a.m.-10 p.m. The Federal Communications Commission fined Viacom Inc. a record $550,000 for airing Janet Jackson’s breast exposure during last year’s Super Bowl halftime program.
The FCC does not regulate cable programming for indecency.
In his comments, Bush did not address the disparity between cable and broadcasting.
“Look,” Bush said, “we are a great society because we're a free society. On the other hand, it is very important for there to be limits, limits to what parents have to explain to their children. Nevertheless, I do want to repeat what I said earlier: The parent's first responsibility is to pay attention to what their children listen to, whether it be rock songs or movies or TV shows.”
Bush said he thought FCC chairman Michael Powell -- who is leaving the agency in March -- “did a good job” of balancing the concerns of parents and the free-speech rights of content providers.
Lamb also asked Bush about legislation that would impose heavy fines for broadcast-TV indecency violations.
“Well, they're going to collect a lot of money when some of these TV shows are still on,” Bush said.
Asked about his own TV habits, Bush said, “Sports. I really don't watch much TV. Of course, C-SPAN. What am I thinking?”