Calling himself a free-speech advocate, President George W. Bush said parents, and not government, are the "first line of responsibility when it comes to protecting children from indecent TV programming."
"They put an off button on the TV for a reason. Turn it off," he told C-Span's Brian Lamb in an exclusive interview scheduled for airing Sunday night.
But Bush did say there is a role for regulators. The government, can, "at times, not censor, but call to account programming that gets over the line."
The President said that when he interviews a new FCC Chairman, he will ask where he thinks that line is, but later clarified that that was not a litmus test.
But don't look for a lighter hand on indecency from a new Chairman. Bush added that outgoing Chairman Michael Powell did a good job of balancing free speech rights and the need to protect kids.
Asked for his take on legislation to increase fines, Bush quipped, "They're going to collect a lot of money when some of these TV shows are still on."
Following is a transcript of the indecency discussion.
LAMB: Can I ask you about indecency? You've got an opportunity to appoint a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Michael Powell is leaving, and you might have other appointments; you have five commissioners. And one of the big issues moving around Capitol Hill is indecency. And I want to ask you, how far do you think government should go in telling people who use the airwaves, the broadcast stations, what can be said?
PRESIDENT: "As a free speech advocate, I often told parents who were complaining about content, you're the first line of responsibility; they put an off button on the TV for a reason. Turn it off. I do think, though, that there can be a -- that government can, at times, not censor, but call to account programming that gets over the line. The problem, of course, is the definition "over the line."
My answer would be, if I were interviewing an FCC chairman, please tell me where the line is, and make sure you protect the capacity of people to speak freely in our society, but be willing to -- if things get too far, call them to account. I think Michael did a good job of balancing that.
LAMB: There is a bill that if it were passed on Capitol Hill would up the fees, up the fine from $27,000 for using bad language, for instance, to $500,000 as a maximum fee.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they're going to collect a lot of money when some of these TV shows are still on.
LAMB: But is that -- I mean, at what point, though, do you have somebody that says, that word can't be used, but that word can be used?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I understand. Look, it's the old -- the classic definition of the Supreme Court -- by the Supreme Court on pornography, you know it when you see it. I think that was Judge Potter Stewart who said that.
Look, we are a great society because we're a free society. On the other hand, it is very important for there to be limits, limits to what parents have to explain to their children. Nevertheless, I do want to repeat what I said earlier -- the parent's first responsibility is to pay attention to what their children listen to, whether it be rock songs or movies or TV shows.