Speaking at a recent black-tie dinner sponsored by the Media Institute, Viacom Executive Chairman Sumner Redstone harshly condemned the Federal Communications Commission for imposing fines against indecent television. He claimed it's all a violation of constitutionally protected free speech. "Give the government the tools to punish those it doesn't like or silence what it doesn't want to hear and you undermine democracy."
He also blasted the owners of the public airwaves for the temerity to protest his programming. "We find ourselves in a world where increasingly and alarmingly a couple thousand form complaints from people condemning a show that they have never watched can result in an indecency fine 10 times higher than a year ago."
The entertainment news media predictably marched in step to the tune of their Pied Piper. Variety reported Redstone "found entertainment and news execs are 'living with a great deal of fear' thanks to increased government censorship." Broadcasting and Cable magazine found a warning that "the fear of an FCC content crackdown is taking its toll in self-censorship." Multichannel News summarized that Redstone said the FCC "has introduced a climate of fear where the preferences of relatively few people are dictating popular tastes."
In case anyone thinks the Hollywood press isn't a very willing stenographer for the entertainment media, Broadcasting & Cable reporter John Eggerton waved his pom-poms on his Weblog: "I forgot to sufficiently praise Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone for standing up to the D.C. forces of decency earlier this week, a bulwark of sorts against an onslaught of content controllers. ... You tell 'em."
None of these reports on Redstone's remarks included any reaction from those Americans -- which is to say, the vast majority of American public opinion -- who hold that televised indecency is a growing national problem and scandal. More importantly, none of these reports told the full story. Redstone and Co. are loudly and piously proclaiming to the court of public opinion a commitment to stop the indecency on television while simultaneously, stealthily, feverishly maneuvering in the courts to ensure they will never be held accountable for the indecency they want to put on the public airwaves.
Look no further than Exhibit A in the TV indecency debate: Janet Jackson's peek-a-boob stunt at the 2004 Super Bowl, airing before the largest television audience of the year, stuffed with millions of sports-loving children. There was a national uproar, and when dragged before Congress for an explanation, then-Viacom executive Mel Karmazin apologized and pledged before the packed hall that his network would enact a "zero tolerance policy" against indecency.