Viacom and CBS chairman Sumner Redstone said in a speech Monday night that the crackdown on indecent broadcast programming by the Federal Communications Commission has introduced a climate of fear where the preferences of relatively few people are dictating popular tastes.
“Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a world where, increasingly and alarmingly, a couple of thousand form complaints from people condemning shows that they have never watched can result in an indecency fine 10 times higher than it was a year ago … in a world where these same form complaints can lead regulators to dictate business models that ultimately will do more harm than good. And, yes, in a world where entertainment and news executives, musicians and artists are living with a great deal of fear,” Redstone said, according to the prepared text of his speech.
Redstone, speaking at the Media Institute's annual salute to defenders of free speech, went on to list four examples where TV stations altered their schedules to avoid scrutiny by the FCC.
He said more than 11% of CBS affiliates “pre-empted or moved” an award-winning program about Sept. 11, 2001, firefighters at the World Trade Center just to play it safe.
The stations, he said, acted because they had been “hounded by pressure groups and fearful of onerous fines” related to “language deemed to be indecent.”
The Media Institute, a First Amendment organization, is funded by various media and telecommunications companies.
Under a law passed earlier this year, the FCC is allowed to fine a TV station up to $325,000 per indecency violation, a 10-fold increase over the previous legal maximum. Use of the "f-word" and nudity between 6 a.m.-10 p.m. can result in an FCC fine.
CBS is appealing the $550,000 fine the FCC meted out in response to airing Janet Jackson’s fleeting breast exposure during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
Instead of government regulation of speech, parents want the ability to block content, Redstone said.
“Let us rise above the temptation to censor or fine or regulate the most basic and primary of our constitutional rights. Not only because it is an improper role for government, but also because it is not what Americans want from their government,” Redstone said.
Cable programming is exempt from FCC indecency regulations.
In separate remarks, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said his company advocates providing parents with the tools to block indecent content.
“Together with all of this choice and freedom of speech comes responsibility -- responsibility to give people the tools they need to navigate through the choices. Things like parental controls and media education help parents to take charge of what their children are watching,” Britt said.