Karmazin: CBS Should Be Liable for Its Programming

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Viacom Inc. president Mel Karmazin said Wednesday that he has no problem with CBS being held legally liable by the Federal Communications Commission for what in puts on the air.

Currently, only stations are liable for indecency fines. "Our lawyers may give me 30 reasons why I shouldn’t say that," he said at a House hearing on indecency yesterday, "but personally, I would have no trouble with it."

Although he apologized for the Janet Jackson incident a number of times, Karmazin took heavy criticism from the House panel, with several Congressmen saying his company "didn’t get it," and a couple equating it with Enron.

Here are some other highlights (or lowlights, depending on your vantage) from the House indecency hearing yesterday.

· Third prize is...you’re fired: An angry-almost-to-the-point-of-tears Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) equated Viacom with Enron and demanded to know who at MTV was responsible for the halftime display.

Karmazin said the Enron analogy was off base and that he was ultimately responsible. But he also identified the top executives at MTV as Tom Freston, Judy McGrath, and Van Toffler, whose names he said he had given to the FCC as part of its investigation.

He hadn’t fired anyone, Karmazin said, because the company’s investigation did not find that anyone there could reasonably have foreseen the incident, which he also pointed out lasted less than ¾ of a second.

· Race to the bottom: While the phrase "race to the bottom" was heard frequently during the hearing, Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) introduced a different kind of race into the equation, saying that too much blame was being put on Janet Jackson and not enough on Justin Timberlake.

He called it a double standard and said it smacks of the kind of treatment of African-Americans that he has battled against. Rush says it is that issue that is being talked about in the barbershops and beauty shops in his district.

For his part, Karmazin said he wanted to avoid any suggestion of disparate treatment by inviting both Jackson and Timberlake to the Grammys, so long as they would use the occasion to apologize. Only Timberlake agreed.

· Delay ain’t just a congressman from Texas: Karmazin said that Viacom’s 39 owned stations will now be required to have a delay on their live entertainment broadcasts. It has already adopted such a delay for network fare

· Seeing red: Look for the V-word to join the F-word on the list of no-nos. At the hearing, FCC commissioners and House members appeared in near universal agreement that extremely violent programming should be added to the definition of indecency.

· Missed it by that much…: NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that the NFL and MTV had clashed over content of the halftime show. He said that after he raised questions about the appropriateness of the show back in December, CBS President Les Moonves assured him that the halftime would not be an embarrassment.

· While we’re at it: Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak called for a general hearing on "First Amendment violations on the public airwaves, citing CBS’s refusal to run the Reagan miniseries or a MoveOn.org issue ad on its network.

Karmazin responded to the MoveOn.org issue, saying again that the network doesn’t accept any issue ads.

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