The media are under siege as never before in his 24 years in the business, NBC Universal chairman Robert Wright plans to tell a Washington audience Wednesday night.
Wright, who is receiving The Media Institute's Freedom of Speech Award, plans to divide his brief acceptance speech among three major threats 1) subpoenas that hamper journalists, 2) the content-regulation climate in Washington, particularly the indecency crackdown, 3) and protecting content in an age of easy digital piracy.
The copyright issue, which Wright is expected to emphasize, has arguably become even more important to the Peacock with its purchase of Universal. Hollywood has been lobbying hard for changes to copyright law that would make it more difficult to create hardware and software for the express purpose of copying and distributing protected digital content. Pushing back are fair use advocates who fear a crackdown on legal copying and sharing.
Although the speech was a work in progress at press time, according to portions of a draft, Wright plans to begin by expressing his alarm at the flood of subpoenas on journalists who are "just trying to do their job. "It will be an easy transition from his introduction by Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, who was hit with such a subpoena.
Wright plans to say that the chilling effect has had serious consequences and could not come at a worse time, though whether he means on election eve, in the midst of a terror war, or both, was unclear.
That subpoena flood has included Russert and others in an investigation of the leak to columnist Robert Novak of the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame; and five reporters, led by ex-CNN and now ABC reporter Pierre Thomas, in the Wen Ho Lee spy case.
On the issue of indecency, Wright is expected to say that society has less to fear from obscene, indecent and profane content than from an overzealous government that is willing to limit First Amendment protection and creative expression.
Wright also plans to stand up for TV stations, saying the vast majority do an excellent job of drawing the line on content.
The FCC's decision to reverse itself and rule that Bono's F-word on NBC's Golden Globes broadcast was indecent helped reveal the direction and extent of that content crackdown, which now includes language.
NBC recently had to add a time-delay to its NASCAR coverage after an errant "S-word" slipped into an interview.
Wright will also appeal for protections for intellectual property, framing it as an issue that extends beyond media companies given an economy driven by service-based businesses increasingly relying on intellectual property as their chief asset. Wright plans to say that the cost of not getting the digital copyright regulatory regime right would be huge.