Speech Defenders Speak Out
Media Institute honors execs; EA CEO promotes global ratings system
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/15/2012 10:12:19 AM
The event was the media company-backed First Amendment think tank's annual awards banquet, and honorees used part of their time on the podium praising the group for its commitment to defending free speech, and other parts to praise broadcasting public service and call for a global video game ratings system in a space where the government gatekeepers are being bypassed by new technology.
Bob Pittman, CEO of Clear Channel, who received the Freedom of Speech award, thanked the group for its "tireless efforts to protect and promote the First Amendment."
John Ricciteillo, CEO of electronic game powerhouse Electronic Arts and recipient of the American Horizon Award, cited the institute's "passionate" amicus brief in the Supreme Court supporting the video game industry's case challenging California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to regulate video game violence. Back in June 2011, the Supreme Court has upheld a Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruling that California's ban on violent video games was an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech.
And introducing Riccitiello, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski cited the institute's mission of "promoting free speech, quality journalism and a vibrant communications sector." Genachowski said there was no more fundamental right or value in a democracy than freedom of speech, something he said he has believed passionately for decades. "Thomas Jefferson said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance," he said, "and I want to thank the Media Institute for is vigilance in helping preserve these fundamental freedoms."
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel echoed that salute, saying that the institute had been "a champion for freedom of speech, competitive media markets, and excellence in journalism," and she had no doubt they would continue to make their voice heard.
Pittman used much of his time to talk about his company's commitment to the public interest, from protecting speech to informing and protecting their communities. "Hurricane Sandy had a profound effect on our community," he said. "I am proud that our stations kept their communities informed about the storm's progress and impact and aftermath, then turned their focus to relief efforts, exactly as we did when tornados ripped through and Tuscaloosa a year ago, and just as they will the next time disaster hits close to home."
Riccitiello said that government's ability to restrict free speech is waning as censors are losing the battle thanks to the power of the Internet. He pointed out that with millions of games being distributed direct to the consumers over the Internet, those digital downloads are effectively beyond the reach of government,
"It is time to ask ourselves what happens to ratings when there is no gatekeeper, when there is no ticked taker at the theater. What happens when there is no one to ask for ID."
While some people think the answer is age dating -- asking people to verify their age online -- Riccitiello suggested that was not it. "What age do you think your kids use then they try to download a trailer for a mature game like Grand Theft Auto," he said. "We need to update the way we inform consumers.
Riccitiello said the answer is a single, global ratings system that consumers will recognize. He said his company and its counterparts are working on that global ratings system that would be self-certified by the companies and monitored by regional boards. He joked that the way to get that standard is to ask Google, Apple and Facebook to accept a common standard, and then we ask France to agree to it. "The Supreme Court has given us First Amendment rights that we cherish, but as we are so often told, with great freedom comes great responsibility."
He pointed to the MPAA ratings adopted by the movie industry in the 1960's, which succeeded in giving consumers more informed choices while heading off government intervention via self regulation. "We must adopt a self regulated global ratings system across every format and geography."
Genachowski joked about the speculation over his future at the commission, but did not clear any of it up. "Everyone is asking am I staying or going," he said. "I don't know why people keep asking me that question; clearly they should be asking Nate Silver." Genachowski said he had asked Media Institute President Patrick Maines what the American Horizon Award was for, and Maines responded that it was "pretty much an award for great innovators in the sector who are kicking some tail." Genachowsk said that certainly applied to Riccitiello.
Rosenworcel gave the keynote address, and made the point that consumers continue to rely on old and new forms of communications, using the recent election as an example. "According to Wells Fargo analysts, of the nearly $6 billion spent on advertising in the 2012 election, the largest share went to traditional media," she pointed out. "Fifty-four percent went to local television broadcasters. Eighteen percent went to old-fashioned direct mail. Eleven percent went to a mix of radio, newspapers, and billboards. The all-powerful Internet? Just 6 percent."
She added that while there may be a new media world, "old values still matter, like the fact that piracy is "old-fashioned theft," kids deserve quality content, and journalism, the "old-fashioned art of digging up stuff," merits support most of all when it "shows us at our least."
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