Fighting Back, at Last
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/8/2005 8:00:00 PM
Two and a half cheers for the broadcast networks for finally standing up to Washington on its ludicrous indecency crackdown. We have been waiting since Janet's flash seen 'round the world for the industry to step up and speak out in one voice. Last week, they came close.
The networks (with the exception of ABC) have put their money where their mouth is and launched TV Watch, a group that will lobby for “personal responsibility” over government regulation, though we prefer a term that doesn't smack of right-wing code for “family values.” What it really amounts to is “fighting government censorship through education.” It's high time.
We thought the National Association of Broadcasters was ready to flash some teeth back in February after having remained closed-mouthed on the subject, but the group's opposition to the crackdown proved instead to be a dual message of “Don't censor us, but if you do, kneecap everybody else so they won't get too far ahead of us.” Wrong message.
Last week, we wrote in this space that NBC's decision to expand its TV ratings—by adding so-called descriptors, like “V” for violence and “L” for language, etc.—to match the other networks was an opportunity to start making the case for freedom for everybody.
The coalition is one of those “strange-bedfellows” aggregates thrown together by their dislike of government intrusion. It unites conservatives like Americans for Tax Reform, which doesn't want the government in citizen's TV rooms any more than in their pocketbooks. And it includes groups like Hollywood's Creative Coalition, which doesn't want Washington in its editing suites.
The networks' message, the same one the cable industry sounded two weeks ago, is that the media need to do a better job of informing parents about available control over content through the V-chip and ratings and that viewers need to use those tools. TV Watch even provided a survey that concludes emphatically that Americans would much rather set their own standards than have the government do it for them.
The group's urgency is commendable. It's asking viewers to “contact everyone you know who loves TV and tell them to join before they lose their favorite programs.” It is also wisely fighting fire with fire, using the activist tools of Web sites and online petitions—so often used against broadcasters—to make their voices heard.
One section of the Web site ( www.televisionwatch.org) reads, “You may not know it, but the government has already changed your favorite programs.” It notes, for example, that a scene showing South Africa's Nelson Mandela was deleted from a documentary because women in the background participating in a traditional dance were partially unclothed.
That's ridiculous. And it is about time the television industry began making that point forcefully to viewers. Media may be offensive sometimes by accident. Sometimes, it even might be offensive by design.
But there are safeguards, and there is common sense. From now on, the American public ought to use each a lot more. That's what TV Watch is saying, too.
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