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Committed to the First Amendment
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This show must go

On May 9, the IRTS plans to honor MTV for "significant achievement" during its first 20 years. When MTV Chairman Judy McGrath walks on stage at New York's Waldorf-Astoria to accept, most in the crowd will applaud heartily. We won't.

We have a serious problem with MTV these days and the executives who run it—it's their new hit show, Jackass. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, the show features young men engaged in sophomoric stunts, including clearly dangerous ones. It's the closest TV has gotten to simply having sideshow geeks biting the heads off chickens. OK, Tom Green runs a close second.

If this were simply television in bad taste, we would let it go without comment. After all, there is plenty of television in bad taste and only room for 600 words or so on this page. What disturbs us is that the antics have apparently inspired a lot of kids to go out and copy their Jackass heroes, even to the extent of videotaping their stunts. The result has been serious injuries. It seems only a matter of time before someone kills himself or herself. Yes, even when encouraged by adults, kids should not act like jackasses. But neither should network programmers.

Right now, MTV is taking heat for the show. Its response has been to point to the many disclaimers about "not trying this at home." But we are not so far from our teenage years to have forgotten that such warnings are no more than a dare—no, a double dare. Kids will do a lot of stupid things. It's up to the grownups like McGrath to discourage them, not to egg them on by scheduling shows that validate their stupid-thing impulses.

MTV can hide behind the First Amendment and, maybe, avoid trouble from the government. But the fact that the First Amendment affords protection to panderers is nothing to brag about. And nothing to applaud.

No clear picture

We have been awaiting results of the congressional study on whether the swath of satellite spectrum can hold terrestrial competitors like Northpoint without interfering with existing satellite services. The study was released last week, and we are still eagerly awaiting a definitive answer.

The findings: New terrestrial services in the band pose "a significant interference threat to direct broadcast satellite operation," unless certain "mitigating measures" are taken, in which case "Multichannel Video and Data Distribution Services (MVDDS) and DBS bandsharing is feasible," except that, even with such techniques, some "residual interference" would remain, although it could probably be confined to a small amount. The study concludes the FCC must decide whether additional video competition is worth the risk of interference.

Given that less than clear picture, this sounds like a job for the FCC in its role of spectrum traffic cop. To add the medical profession to the metaphor, it should also take a page from the Hippocratic oath and, first, do no harm. We recognize the FCC's interest in fostering competition. But that is why DBS providers were given local-into-local and put in a position to compete head to head with cable. So, in a world where great pictures and sound are the baseline expectation, insuring that satellite companies and their subscribers do not suffer serious interference is a competition as well as an interference issue. Given that the satellite industry is just gaining some major traction, this would be a bad time to put on the brakes by compromising its service. If Northpoint poses no legitimate threat to satellite reception, then bring it on. We're not ready to make that call yet.

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