Fighting Back, at Last


Two and a half cheers for the broadcast networks for finally standing up
to Washington on its ludicrous indecency crackdown. We have been waiting since
Janet's flash seen 'round the world for the industry to step up and speak
out in one voice. Last week, they came close.

The networks (with the exception of ABC) have put their money where
their mouth is and launched TV Watch, a group that will lobby for “personal
responsibility” over government regulation, though we prefer a term that
doesn't smack of right-wing code for “family values.” What it really
amounts to is “fighting government censorship through education.” It's
high time.

We thought the National Association of Broadcasters was ready to flash
some teeth back in February after having remained closed-mouthed on the
subject, but the group's opposition to the crackdown proved instead to be a
dual message of “Don't censor us, but if you do, kneecap everybody else so
they won't get too far ahead of us.” Wrong message.

Last week, we wrote in this space that NBC's decision to expand its TV
ratings—by adding so-called descriptors, like “V” for violence and
“L” for language, etc.—to match the other networks was an opportunity to
start making the case for freedom for everybody.

The coalition is one of those “strange-bedfellows” aggregates thrown
together by their dislike of government intrusion. It unites conservatives like
Americans for Tax Reform, which doesn't want the government in citizen's TV
rooms any more than in their pocketbooks. And it includes groups like
Hollywood's Creative Coalition, which doesn't want Washington in its
editing suites.

The networks' message, the same one the cable industry sounded two
weeks ago, is that the media need to do a better job of informing parents about
available control over content through the V-chip and ratings and that viewers
need to use those tools. TV Watch even provided a survey that concludes
emphatically that Americans would much rather set their own standards than have
the government do it for them.

The group's urgency is commendable. It's asking viewers to
“contact everyone you know who loves TV and tell them to join before they
lose their favorite programs.” It is also wisely fighting fire with fire,
using the activist tools of Web sites and online petitions—so often used
against broadcasters—to make their voices heard.

One section of the Web site ( reads, “You may not
know it, but the government has already changed your favorite programs.” It
notes, for example, that a scene showing South Africa's Nelson Mandela was
deleted from a documentary because women in the background participating in a
traditional dance were partially unclothed.

That's ridiculous. And it is about time the television industry began
making that point forcefully to viewers. Media may be offensive sometimes by
accident. Sometimes, it even might be offensive by design.

But there are safeguards, and there is common sense. From now on, the
American public ought to use each a lot more. That's what TV Watch is saying,