News Corp’s Chernin gets Supreme Court warm-up
News Corp’s U.S. television network Fox is going to the Supreme Court to fight for its right to broadcast freely — whatever the Federal Communications Commission has to say about it.
Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin will offer a preview of the network’s thinking tonight when he addresses the Media Institute, which is honoring him for his leadership on free speech. This comes in advance of the Nov. 4 court date in FCC v. Fox Television Stations.
Here’s the gist of the case, as The New York Times described it:
When Cher appeared on the Billboard Music Awards in 2002, she used a four-letter word connoting sex. The next year, on the same show, banter between Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie included that word and another obscenity. In Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations, No. 07-582, the court will decide whether the F.C.C. has the power to punish broadcasters for airing “fleeting expletives.”
And here’s a bit of what Chernin plans to say (We presented the excerpts in consecutive order. Spaces indicate where we cut things out for the sake of space):
And for creators of content, if we’re doing our jobs right, we sometimes offend people. It’s that simple. And, believe me, we wrestle with that fact. We struggle with complex issues every day. Are we guilty of contributing to the vulgarization of our society or simply of mirroring it? Is it our responsibility to be the arbiters of good taste, or is it our duty to push boundaries? Is it even possible to create innovative programming for a mass audience that is diverse on every level – from age, to religious affiliation, to ethnicity?
If we are found in violation, just think about the radical ramifications for live programming – from news, to politics, to sports. In fact, to every live broadcast television event. The effect would be appalling.
But the truth is, people don’t think about defending broadcasters’ right to utter expletives in the same way they think about defending one’s right to speak critically of our government. But they should. The First Amendment is at stake in both cases.
I’ll admit: some of the content we are defending is not particularly tasteful: the expletives, the brief nudity, the carefully placed whipped cream and, of course, the pixels. I would not have allowed my own children, when they were younger, to watch some of these shows. But, I vow to fight to the end our ability to put occasionally controversial, offensive, and even tasteless content on the air.
Why? Because, if the government gets its foot in the censorship door with respect to unpopular entertainment content, it is the beginning of the steep slide toward censoring unpopular political content.
The job of protecting children lies with PARENTS. The job of the GOVERNMENT is to resist the views of interest groups with particular agendas and instead to enforce the law in a way that is consistent, fair and constitutional.
Chernin adds one other argument, like a dollop of practicality, and one that we suspect will come up in court:
Let’s step back for a minute and get some perspective on this issue. The indecency law applies only to broadcast TV: that’s a handful of channels. Over 85% of the country receives their broadcast channels through a cable, telco line or satellite signal. Sitting right next to the broadcast channels on these multichannel systems are hundreds of other channels that are not subject to the indecency law. And those other channels are just a click away on the remote control. Nor does the indecency law apply to video-on-demand, pay per view, DVDs, or the mother of all content providers: the Internet.
Ah yes, the Internet angle. The government tried for years to get that one to stick.