It would be "dangerous" for broadcasters to alter their programming or practices simply to appease Washington, Mario Cuomo said.
The former New York governor last week came out strongly in defense of broadcasters in general, and Howard Stern in particular, as the industry faces ramped-up government content oversight on indecency.
As a general rule, government should keep its hands off content, said Cuomo, now with Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, New York. Those comments came in an interview to be broadcast on WVOX(AM)-WRTN(FM) New Rochelle, N.Y.
Cuomo said that the electronic media should have the same First Amendment freedom as print and that "if" stations are caving in to Congress on the indecency issue, that is bad news.
"Now, if they start censoring [Janet Jackson] on a TV show because she is about to tear the patch off her breast or [Stern] on a radio show because he is going to start talking about things that we would regard as filth," said Cuomo, "that is bad and dangerous."
Cuomo made clear that it was the suggestion of government coercion that compromised those decisions. By contrast, he said, if the decision to pull Stern had been made because you thought it was bad business or as "a judgment that reflected what your people wanted," he would have no objection to it.
Like it or not, concludes Cuomo, and some of today’s content he doesn’t like, "in the end, if there is a lot of sex it’s because America wants a lot of this. Now, they won’t say it, but they desire it or it wouldn’t be selling and it’s selling big time, let’s be honest. We are disgusted by what we desire but we desire what disgusts us."
Cuomo also conceded that the government has an interest in protecting children, and thus has more leeway in departing from an absolute liberal free speech standard, but he believes the "best and most effective censor is a parent.
"I don’t mind government trying to help children and screening for them as long as they don’t overdo it and in the process of screening for children screen out the adults as well."