Committed to the First Amendment

A Necessary Course Correction

The NAB last week officially concluded that any victory it won on rolling back the 45% ownership cap would be a Pyrrhic one. NAB has now informed its friends on the Hill that it opposes all legislative attempts to reimpose the 35% cap.

While some in the organization still want the rollback, the legislative efforts that NAB itself helped launch have accumulated far too many regulatory barnacles. Whether or not this ship can be turned around is another question. Sen. John Dingell said last week that he will push on with his effort to roll back the cap, adding that he still thinks he has some broadcasters with him. We hope not. Anyone still on this wayward ship deserves to go down with it.

Having taken NAB to task for what we felt was shortsighted backing of cap-rollback efforts (see this page, July 7), we will now applaud it for taking the longer view. We would rather it had been due to the light of reason rather than the swift kick of political reality, but it was the right call no matter what the motive. Credit is due NAB President Eddie Fritts for making that call—that is, for leading rather than following members who would have accepted repugnant content regulation as the price for the rollback.

We also hope that putting the cap issue behind them signals the beginning of a rapprochement between NAB and the networks, which have all left the trade group over the issue and the suggestion by some affiliates that network-owned stations weren't their equals in news and local programming. General managers of network-owned TV stations are scheduled to arrive in Washington en masse this week to counter that charge. Perhaps, after they have pressed the flesh and shown the flag, they could stop by NAB headquarters and talk about what everybody does now to keep from hanging separately in a city that seems decidedly less broadcast-friendly than it did only a few months ago.

Cloudy Cumulus Debate

Last week, Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain and other senators beat up on Cumulus for having removed the Dixie Chicks from its country playlists for a month in response to one member's criticism of President Bush. The legislators suggested that it represented a threat to the First Amendment, if not the democracy itself. OK. Let's all take a deep breath. Was it a good decision? As a regular programming philosophy, no. Politically, certainly not. And Cumulus Chairman Lewis Dickey conceded as much under the committee's grilling, saying, if he had it to do over, he would have left it to individual program directors. But whatever you think of Cumulus's decision, to paint it as some Borg-like (or worse) attack on the First Amendment is absurd. In bumping the Dixie Chicks, Cumulus was exercising its First Amendment right to air whatever it wants without regard for what the government wants. Cumulus is not a threat to the First Amendment; the sentiments of McCain and his Hill colleagues are.