Editorials - Broadcasting & Cable

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Committed to the First Amendment
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Indecent proposal

The FCC has just released its seven-years-in-the-making clarification of its indecency policy. The speed with which the new Powell FCC released the guidelines confirms that he is an enemy of backlogs, which is a good thing. Powell, as we said before, is no fan of content regulation, and we don't think he has changed his tune.

The upside for broadcasters, from a practical standpoint, is that they now have a better idea of what will pass muster at the commission. The downside, in addition to the fact that they shouldn't have to run their content past a government gauntlet in the first place, is that anti-indecency forces may treat the move as a call to arms and the guidelines as a battle plan for a new assault on broadcast speech. And with the broadcasting industry facing a tough economy and looking to Washington for help on everything from copyright issues and digital deadlines to ownership-cap relief, the temptation of self-censorship is strong.

Having read some of the FCC's examples of the kind of speech drawing complaints, we wonder whether some broadcasters deserve their freedom. Our answer in some cases would be no. But that is only our opinion and shouldn't be the law of the land. Neither, for that matter, should it be that of three out of five regulators in Washington. That said, we read the release of the guidelines as overdue compliance with the court and clearing of the docket and not a signal that the FCC is eager to become a national nanny. We hope we are right.

Shortfall

There are two ways to read the Annenberg Public Policy Center report on the progress of women in achieving key industry positions: as a glass mostly empty or a glass slightly full. Annenberg chooses to concentrate on the fact that women constitute only 9% of board members and 13% of top executives, noting that it gets worse (3%) if you restrict reporting to so-called "clout" titles (chairman, CEO, president and the like).

But when the smoke clears, you find that 25% of executives at Clear Channel are women, that 25% of news executives at CBS and Fox are women, that women make up 21% of the boards at General Electric and Disney, and 29% of the board at SBC. At NATPE, the board is said to be 41% women, although at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, it's zip. (It's 15% at the National Association of Broadcasters.) Women account for 44% of Yahoo's executive force, for 52% of TV anchors, 38% of TV network bureau chiefs and 17% of station GMs.

We're troubled by Annenberg's under-recognizing the progress shown by its own study, but we share its concern that there are so few women in the executive ranks. Change has to begin at the top, which means that a lot of male CEOs still have their work cut out for them.

Mr. Rogers goes to Washington

Public broadcaster Fred Rogers sought to set a gentle tone for noncommercial station executives' lobbying the Hill last week. Rogers, who is retiring from active production of his long-running children's TV show—though it will continue airing repeats—has been a favorite of this page. He did nothing to alter that opinion. Rogers said the executives need only articulate what the FCC knew when it set aside channels for educational TV: "that public broadcasting is at its best when it listens to the heartbeat of the nation and is its quiet servant."

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