Rehr, Cuomo Diss Indecency Crackdown


Veteran Republican lobbyist and NAB President David Rehr and former Democratic New York Governor and Wilkie, Farr & Gallagher Attorney Mario Cuomo are on the same page when it comes to the crackdown on broadcast speech. They don't like it.

Rehr Monday suggested that one of his principle concerns is that it is not too great a leap from the suppression of indecent speech to that of political speech.

"My big worry with the whole indecency debate," he told a New York radio audience,  "is that there is not that much of a span between what is considered indecent and something that people should dare not talk about. And when you get into the idea that there are certain things that people in America should not talk about, then that is bad for the country."

Rehr was in Westchester County Monday on a road trip to visit local stations--and hand out an award in New York--that will take him to Minnesota and Florida before returning to Washington later in the week.

Rehr reportedly spent four hours at Whitney radio's WVOX-WRTN Radio there, including almost an hour on the air, talking primarily about content issues. The stations are run by former NAB Public Affairs Chairman and long-time First Amendment defender Bill O'Shaughnessy. Rehr was sharing the mike not only with O'Shaughnessy but with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who is no fan of speech regulation.

"There is a certain degree of palpable hypocrisy in Congress when they make these fine morale judgments about obscenity," said Cuomo. He said what was "obscene" was instead the lack of communication associated with the "billions of dollars [legislators] pass every year in arcane, invisible bills that nobody gets a chance to see. If they want to deal with morality in communications, they should start there."

Cuomo said the culture must be the governor on morality, that kids must ultimately decide for themselves what is appropriate according to principles taught at home and in school.  "Free speech is so valuable that I will pay even a big price for it. Even if my sensitivities have to be offended from time to time." he said. "To try to do it in a statue, it just doesn't work."

Cuomo said that he would not have signed the indecency fine-boost bill if he were president. It is unenforceable, he argued. "The rule has to be imposed by your culture, not legislated. Society is constantly shifting and evolving, for better of worse."

Asked by O'Shaughnessy whether he thought stations were blameless in the crackdown, Rehr said that some performers may be "a little edgy," but said the problem was focusing on the 1% or 2% that is edgy or vulgar rather than on the 98% that is decent and great and local."

Rehr said that, as a parent, he wrestles with what is age appropriate for his kids, and that "sometimes we turn it off, sometimes we change channels, and sometimes we put in a DVD. But I also want my children to understand that, in America, people can see and hear what they want."