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H--l to the Chief - Broadcasting & Cable

H--l to the Chief

Bush is bleeped; advertisers fret about telecom reform
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Broadcast networks last week insisted their decision to bleep President Bush's profanity was an appropriate response and not because of the FCC's crackdown on cursing—even potentially in news shows. During a break at the G-8 summit, Bush said, “Get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over” in a would-be private conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. When it was picked up by an open mike, it became the “sh-t” heard round the world” or, in some cases, not heard.

While CNN aired it unexpurgated—cable is not subject to indecency restrictions—broadcasters both bleeped the audio and put dashes in their on-screen text of the sometimes tough-to-decipher audio.

ABC, NBC and CBS all bleeped the expletive. Was it out of fear of FCC reprisal?

“No,” says CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius. “Fundamentally, we don't air expletives. It is a long-standing policy.”

“This was not a policy change,” agrees NBC's Barbara Levin. “We have our own values and policies that predate this or any FCC.” Ditto for ABC.

CNN makes the call on a case-by-case basis, says spokeswoman Edie Emery. In this case, the prominence of the speaker drove the decision.

“The word is not one we'd normally air on CNN,” the network says, “but when said by the president in this context, we thought it was appropriate.”

Senate Bill Worries Advertiser Group

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) is concerned that the Senate Commerce Committee-passed telecom-reform bill could curtail children's advertising on new platforms before they can even be built.

In a letter to members of the committee, the advertisers called for two provisions to be dropped when the bill goes to the floor.

The group is particularly concerned with amendments that would prohibit any interactive commercial matter within or adjacent to kids TV shows and that would extend broadcast commercial time limits to include online and mobile.

Both go further than the FCC's DTV kids rules or a set of compromise rules submitted by industry activists and being considered by the FCC. The bill includes a laundry list of issues besides video-franchise reform. Many are expected to be jettisoned on the floor or in conference, but ANA is taking no chances.

“These provisions may be well- intended, but they would make sweeping and misguided changes in the media landscape and raise serious First Amendment concerns,” blogged ANA Executive VP Dan Jaffe.

Sen. Sam Brownback did not address those provisions specifically, but at a Children Now conference on marketing to children last week, he said he does not favor congressional mandates on marketing but prefers to hold hearings and sit down with industry players to work together. Nickelodeon exec Marva Smalls gave Brownback kudos for his approach and said her company is ready to sit down, “roll up its sleeves” and tackle the problem, adding, though, that it is a marathon, not a sprint.

Odds continue to lengthen on any telecom bill's making it out of Congress this session. Several Democrats threaten to veto telecom reform without the network- neutrality provisions that most Republicans say they won't accept.

E-mail comments to jeggerton@reedbusiness.com

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