Editorials - Broadcasting & Cable

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Committed to the First Amendment
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History of a campaign that failed

That First Amendment chill in the air last week was NBC's liquor-ad plans being put on ice. The handful of Congressmen who decided NBC's measured approach to introducing liquor advertising was an assault on decency succeeded last week in getting the network to put a cork in its plan.

There were other pressures as well. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which applauded NBC's guidelines for liquor advertising, wanted new restrictions on all alcohol advertising, not just on the new hard-liquor category. Beer and wine advertisers could not have been happy with that prospect, and NBC likely did not want to be the one to prompt a crackdown on the entire category.

But mostly, it was those powerful legislators who bullied the network into at least delaying, and probably scrapping, an attempt to give the makers of a legal product an opportunity to advertise on network TV. That group of Washington "public servants" who chilled speech they dislike were congratulating (or toasting responsibly?) NBC as though it had independently seen the light of reason rather than recoiled from the accusatory spotlight congressional leaders had trained on it. They were also patting themselves on the back last week as though their censorship-by-proxy was something to be proud of. It isn't.

Towards a new interoperability

The true definition of interoperability in the DTV transition is everybody working together to get it done. The blame game won't get one more DTV signal on the air.

Two thirds of broadcasters aren't there yet, and won't be by the May 1 deadline. Unlike Claude Raines in Casablanca, who at least feigned shock that gambling was going on in the casino, we don't even pretend surprise that a new system of broadcasting, whose transmission scheme wasn't even really set until 2001, could not be rushed into operation. While plenty of obstacles popped up, a viable business model never did. So now what?

The cable industry has said it is here to help by adding more high-def programming and promoting that fact in concert with broadcasters. The olive branch should be gratefully accepted. The FCC needs to be reasonable in reviewing DTV-waiver requests. Broadcasters must not drag their feet, but they cannot wave a wand and make financial, zoning and equipment problems disappear. And studios and equipment manufacturers need to find some middle ground on copy protection. Congress and the administration need to recognize that there is a difference between being a spur and a thorn. Sen. John McCain was being the latter, pushing for legislation last week to punish broadcasters for failing to meet what was never a realistic timetable. The transition will take longer than scheduled. Congress needs to get over it, and everyone needs to get on with it.

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